Tama County residents to vote on telephone tax increase

County seeing less phone tax revenue as more residents switch to cell phones

Tama County voters will be asked next week to double the monthly tax on their telephone land lines.

"We’re experiencing the crunch of people going from landlines to cell phones," said Ryan Currens, the county's emergency management director and chairman of its E-911 board. "There’s just a lot of equipment to be bought, and we’re expecting diminishing revenues."

Tama County's Nov. 6 ballot includes a referendum on doubling the county tax on land lines to $2 a month for up to two years.

Radio users face a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline from the Federal Communications Commission to narrowband their transmissions to double the broadcast frequencies available for wireless devices. That booming market  generates the need for more bandwidth for mobile devices even as consumers drop their land lines, leaving public agencies less money to make the change.

The state levies a 65-cent monthly surcharge on cell phones, but Currens said Tama County receives only about a third of the revenue its residents generate for that fund.

Currens expects the county sheriff's office to meet the narrowband deadline, at a cost of about $120,000. But he said that won't cover maintenance costs or a second round of narrowbanding that's mandated but not scheduled in federal law. Currens said the second round should happen in seven to 10 years.

The county is also home to 12 local fire departments, seven EMS units, two first-responder agencies, and four city police departments, all of whom must meet the deadline.

"Each of those has obviously experienced a pinch," said Currens.

Currens said the county has about 7,000 land lines, raising about $84,000 a year, to fund radio operations and maintenance. He said he's encouraged by residents' support, but hopes they remember to vote.

"When you talk to citizens, they all think $24 a year to pay to have someone there 24 hours a day to answer the phone was pretty reasonable," he said.

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