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Collins and FCC Commissioner O’Rielly Call on New York to Stop Diverting 9-1-1 Fees

PRESS RELEASE


WILLIAMSVILLE -- Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O'Rielly today called on New York State to stop diverting fees collected for 9-1-1 services during a tour of the Niagara County 9-1-1 facilities. The FCC has found that New York diverts approximately 41% of fees that are collected from consumers on their phone bills, which are meant to be used to improve 9-1-1 emergency communications systems, to its General Fund.

In 2012, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which allocated funding for states to upgrade emergency systems to next generation 9-1-1, although New York State is not eligible to receive these funds. Federal funds are not available to states that divert the fees collected on phone bills, leaving New York with an outdated and unreliable emergency system, especially in rural areas.

"It is no surprise that New York's corrupt Governor is diverting important funds meant to improve 9-1-1 services into a taxpayer funded slush fund," said Collins. "Governor Cuomo is putting the lives of New Yorkers in danger, specifically in rural areas, and we are calling him out on his shady tactics. We must prioritize the safety of our communities and improving these services is absolutely essential to keeping our residents safe."

"It is always impressive to get to see dedicated public safety officials in action, especially down the street from where I grew up," said O'Reilly. "But, it is also a stark reminder that these officials and the people in need of emergency services deserve better. Next generation 9-1-1 will provide sophisticated features that will help save lives. Getting there will take the appropriate level of funding, by some estimates upwards of $2.2 billion. Yet, the state effectively steals 41% out of its 9-1-1 coffers for other purposes.  We have to demand answers to the question: what could be more important than this life saving technology?  State leaders should know that my engagement with New York on this issue is just beginning."

"The diversion of 9-1-1 fees away from Niagara County by the State of New York is a blatant misuse of funds generated from emergency service calls," said New York State Senator Ortt. "These, funds should be going toward the upgrading of current emergency service systems, not toward subsidizing Albany's spending habits. This is why I am a proud co-sponsor of legislation requiring the state to provide local governments with an increased percentage of the fees collected from emergency service calls. Funds generated from the use of local utilities should immediately be put back into those localities."

"Between the years of 2013 and 2017, New York State has collected more than $10.2 million dollars in wireless phone surcharges from Niagara County residents," said Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour. "A total of only $2.2 million dollars has been returned to Niagara County 911 in those five years to improve operations."

"It is appalling to think our Governor is misappropriating desperately needed monies from our 911 call centers that our citizens depend upon during life-threatening emergencies," said David Godfrey, Chairman Niagara County Public Safety Committee. "Our 911 public safety communications specialists respond with services and resources that save lives and property of citizens in desperate need of help. The work of these unseen and often unrecognized first responders is invaluable to the citizens of Niagara County in emergency situations. We place our trust in these individuals each and every day to provide assistance under the most stressful of situations. The dispatchers of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office handled 317,320 calls in 2017. This breaks down to 26,443 calls per month and 869 calls per day.  Of these 317,320 calls in 2017, 102,727 were emergency (911) phone calls. Although our dispatchers are highly trained in the job that they do, without up-to-date technologies to assist them, our taxpayers are left with a substandard response to their call for help.  As elected officials and caring human beings, we find this totally unacceptable, and call upon Governor Cuomo to correct this injustice by using the 911 funds 100% for the purpose the tax was intended…the safety of our citizens."

During the tour, Collins, O'Rielly and local elected officials saw firsthand the work that is done to respond to the emergency needs of Western New Yorkers and how fee diversion is impacting services. If New York does not stop diverting fees, Collins and O'Rielly committed to exploring ideas at a federal level to bring these practices to an end.