Berkowitz administration proposes to charge more on Anchorage telephone bills to pay for 911 system

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's administration is proposing a bump to Anchorage telephone bills to pay for what officials describe as an increasingly expensive 911 system.

Under the proposal, submitted to the Anchorage Assembly this week, Anchorage cellphone and landline customers would pay an extra $6 per year to help pay for the emergency 911 system, which had expenses that surpassed $7 million last year. 

Anchorage currently levies a surcharge of $1.50 per month on cellphone and landline customers. The money is used to pay for the 911 system, or the system technology and staff associated with dispatch for the Anchorage Police and Fire departments, said City Manager Mike Abbott. 

The administration now wants to boost the surcharge to $2 per month, the maximum allowed under state law.

Since about 2014, the cost of running the city's 911 program has outpaced revenue to pay for it, said Abbott. He said the deficit has gone into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

"We've been, for want of a better term, losing money on this for two years," Abbott said.

The administration's proposal is expected to generate an extra $2.1 million annually, bringing the total pool of money to $8.6 million, for the 911 system.

The city hasn't changed its 911 surcharge since 2005, according to documents submitted to the Assembly.

As it works now, telephone companies collect the surcharge from landline and cellphone customers with an Anchorage address, according to the Assembly documents. The surcharge appears as a separate line item on a billing statement.

A copy of the proposed ordinance cites "anticipated needs and the basic cost of operating and maintaining the enhanced 911 program" as the reason for the proposed fee increase.

Abbott said more details would be released during a public Assembly work session on Friday.

A memo submitted to the Assembly indicated the increased surcharge income won't be enough to cover the full cost of the system. Any further increase to the surcharge would have to go before Anchorage voters as required by state law, Abbott said.

Next year, the city is due to introduce an upgraded emergency 911 system that will allow people to send video and text messages to 911. 

Abbott said the expenses associated with the new system are included in the surcharge proposal. 

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.