Missouri lawmakers consider new cell phone tax for 911

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. | Faced with a growing need for funding for Emergency 911 services, state lawmakers are considering asking voters to approve a new tax on cell phones.

But the ballot initiative, which county governments would favor, could have a serious catch — consolidating some of state's E-911 call centers.

State Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, last week pointed out there are 174 individual call centers in the state's 117 counties, including two across the street from each other in Chillicothe. He said any effort to provide funding for E-911 service must be tied to making the network more efficient.

"You're never, ever going to get the money until you consolidate," Crowell told Cape Girardeau County officials last week. "I'll force you. I'll starve you down to it, if you're not going to do it of your own free will."

Crowell said he'd prefer five call centers, including one in each quadrant of the state plus one in the center.

State Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, is proposing a 25-cent cell phone tax, which would be placed on the ballot and allow the state to determine who gets funding.

Voters have twice shot down proposals to fund E-911 services through cell phone taxes. Technically considered radio devices, cell phones avoid many of the taxes now levied on landline phones, including E-911 charges. As more people switch to wireless devices, the funding source for E-911 has diminished.

At the same time, call centers are fielding more 911 calls, requiring more dispatchers. It's a need Crowell said he understands.

"I know how important it is," he said. "But by gosh we can do it more efficiently, and that's what the taxpayers deserve and that's what the taxpayers demand."

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said he's discussed consolidating call centers with surrounding communities.

"I'm for (consolidation) as long as we can make it work and be efficient," Walter said. "You have to look at it from a business point of view."