Indiana County Raises Income Tax for… 9-1-1?

A county in Indiana has established a county-wide “Public Safety Answering Point Tax” at 0.1% of residents’ adjusted gross income, to supplement the waning revenues from that state’s 9-1-1 telephone surcharge.

Conduit Street doesn’t make a regular habit of covering news and notes from local governments across the country… but the parallels in this Indiana jurisdiction map awfully well onto a high-priority debate here in Maryland. The county’s revenue from a dedicated fee is falling far short of needs to maintain its system, forcing the county to increasingly supplement its costs with general tax revenues. In Maryland, the same plight faces our counties, where the combined state and county 9-1-1 fee is only $1 per monthly bill (not per line, like every other state), and most counties commit more tax revenue than fee revenue to 9-1-1 operations.

In Howard County, Indiana, the solution was a dedicated income tax increase. From coverage in the Kokomo Tribune:

The Public Safety Answering Point tax, which was approved unanimously by council members, imposes a tax rate of 0.1 percent on the adjusted gross income of county taxpayers.

The tax hike is expected to raise between $1.5 million and $1.7 million annually for Howard County dispatch, according to Auditor Martha Lake, and will cost a resident with $50,000 in adjusted gross income a total of $50. Taxpayers will see the change on their paychecks starting Jan. 1.

“One of the reasons for this ordinance is … the 911 fund has been funded by phone – charges on phones, and then as the landlines have dropped, the income for this fund has also gone down,” said councilman Jim Papacek, who presided over Monday’s meeting in the absence of President Dick Miller.

“And this is a way to keep all this new equipment that we’ve received, help keep it all up to date, the maintenance on it, and make any additions to it that we need,” Papacek added, referencing the county’s newly implement P25 radio program.

For more coverage of the Howard County, Indiana PSAP Tax, see the Kokomo Tribune article online.

Maryland counties generally face a similar challenge as that described in the Indiana article. Maryland’s one-of-a-kind system of levying the 9-1-1 charge per bill, rather than per line, has made the revenue losses here even sharper, as many wireless phone companies have aggressively marketed multi-line plans, which has an indirect but profound effect on 9-1-1 fee revenues. A fiscal note from recent state legislation suggested tens of millions in lost 9-1-1 revenue from Maryland’s anomalous fee structure alone (even before any comparison of the rate structure with those of other states).

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties