Utility, phone fees get first nod

In an effort to boost Douglas County's sagging revenues, two proposed fees got the nod from the Douglas County Board of Commissioners Thursday.

A proposed 1 percent utility operators license fee would impact telecommunication carriers as well as electricity and gas providers. The new fees would raise an estimated $850,000 annually for Douglas County's general fund, according to County Manager Dan Holler.

This was a first reading for the ordinance and another is required. If approved, a 1 percent charge on gross revenues for gas and electric utilities and a 1 percent charge for the first $15 of each phone line for Douglas County customers would be levied.

Commissioner Kelly Kite said the fee is being considered due to recent budget problems.

"I'm in support of this as much as anyone who opposes taxes can be," he said.

The measure was approved 4-1, with Commissioner David Brady casting the one dissenting vote.

"This proposed ordinance is an outgrowth of the budget discussions," he said. "We need to first examine expenditures and do some belt-tightening. I see this as something that needs to come to fruition, but at this juncture I'm not prepared to go there."

Commissioner Nancy McDermid said commissioners could scrutinize county departments to find savings, but some departments could be underfunded for the services they provide.

"We need this tax now," she said. "I support it."

A second proposed ordinance would establish a 25-cent charge for each phone line and cell phone in the county, the money to be used to shore up Douglas County's aging 911 emergency program.

When 911 calls are received, emergency services are routed to the address associated with that number, a real problem when someone in distress uses their cell phone from a different county or isolated location, Holler said.

"That update is critical and maintaining that system is getting more expensive," he said.

A five-member advisory committee will be charged with overseeing expenditure of the funds. Comprised of people with knowledge of telephone systems, the committee won't be formulated until a second reading is approved by commissioners.

The ordinance, which is expected to generate between $100,000 and $125,000, was unanimously approved at Thursday's regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

A decrease in sales tax is partially responsible for the deficits and room taxes have dropped since revenues peaked at $730,000.

In fiscal 2006-07, a transfer of $128,000 from the general fund siphoned off to meet the financial obligations from a flagging room tax fund. Another $280,000 went to social services. The DART system needed an extra $100,000 and senior operations another $32,000.

Holler described the state of Douglas County as tenuous. The short-term opportunities for acquiring the needed revenues are limited but the county is better off than most, he said.

"Our foundation is solid," he said. "A lot of smaller and hopefully two to three major opportunities could come in line for the next fiscal year, but not this one."

-- Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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