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Cell Phone Surchage Not Buying Safety

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – State Democratic lawmakers say cell phone owners aren't getting the safety feature they're paying for.

New York State collects a monthly surcharge on cell phones to pay for 911 technology that can locate people in emergencies.

But, according to state democratic legislators, Governor George Pataki isn't using the surcharge, which is now $1.20 a month, for the Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAP, as it was designated.

Instead, the roughly $180 million dollars collected each year is used to offset the state police budget.

State Assemblyman Richard Smith of Hamburg said people have a right to the safety they think they're paying for.

"Unfortuately most people assume this is a safety device," said Smith. "They dial 911 into this phone and think people will come to help them. That doesn't happen." A surcharge for the PSAP system has been collected from cell phone owners since 1992.

Officials say the Governor dedicated $20 million toward the system for the first time this year.

However, they say the total cost to implement the two phase technology is closer to five hundred million.

State Assemblyman David Koon from Fairport said if the technology had been around ten years ago, it might have saved his daughter.

She dialed 911 from her cell phone, but couldn't talk because her abductor was still in the car.

"That money should be going to the PSAP," said Konn. "Right now, too many people are losing their lives or being put in danger because the money isn't being spent properly."

State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said what Governor Pataki that what the Governor is doing with the surcharge is dishonest and dangerous.

"The public is being deceived into believing that their money is going into this fund for the purposes of upgrading this system," said Hoyt.

"A tragedy like the one involving Assemblyman Koon's daughter might have been avoided."

Counties are allowed to add an additional thirty cent surcharge to help pay for the system.

And some municipalities have begun implementing the PSAP technology on their own.

The city of Buffalo has completed the first phase of PSAP, and is working toward completion of the second, more costly phase of the technology.