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Tax on phone bills, prepaid purchases increases from 75 cents to $1, first increase since 1995

PMG FILE PHOTO - A roughly 33 percent increase in the state 911 tax from 75 cents to $1, which is added to all phone bills in the state, is separate from the local Columbia 911 Communications local option levy. The state 911 tax on all phone bills will increase from 75 cents to $1 starting Jan. 1.

The tax is added to all phone bills statewide, plus retail transactions for pre-paid wireless purchases.

Columbia 911 Communications District Executive Director Mike Fletcher said the 911 districts have not received projections of 911 tax income from the state, but the 911 centers won't receive additional funding until the third quarter of 2020.

Columbia 911 Communication's 2019-20 budget predicted $395,000 in revenue from the 911 tax, accounting for 4.6% of the annual revenue.

The tax hasn't increased since 1995.

"All the while, all of our costs of doing business continue to rise each year, Fletcher said. An increase "has been proposed and fought for by the 911 industry for years, because it has been stagnant ... It's a long time coming," Fletcher said.

"Each of the centers get fewer and fewer dollars, and so we have to make up those differences internally, and some of that impact is cutting of services," he added.

Columbia 911 has had to find other ways to fund things that state funding stopped covering, like the ability to text 911, rather than call; one of the five work stations for dispatchers; and equipment to transfer all calls to a different center if the 911 dispatch center must be evacuated.

The state 911 tax is separate from the 911 local option levy.

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