South Lake Tahoe residents will pay a little more for phone service starting this January as the first of two scheduled fee increases takes effect to help pay for the city’s police, fire and medical dispatch center.
The city’s emergency communication system access fees increase from $1.61 to $2.25 per month on Jan. 1 and will increase again to $2.65 per month one year later in 2015. South Lake Tahoe City Council approved the increases in December.
Phone service providers charge the fee for cell phone and landline phone customers with city addresses, though there are several exceptions. About 26,460 phones are assessed the fee each month, according to the city.
The city implemented the fees in 2004 as a dedicated revenue source to pay for its emergency dispatch operations. The fees have not been increased since 2006.
Revenue from the fees has been declining and failing to cover the cost of dispatch operations. Those costs totaled $984,936 in fiscal year 2013.
The shortfall has been covered with yearly contributions from the city’s general fund to make up the difference. General fund contributions have ranged from $213,349 in 2009 to $363,155 in 2011 and $422,295 in 2013.
Chief of Police Brian Uhler attributes the shrinking revenue in part to South Lake Tahoe’s declining population and the number of people with cell phones who are dropping their landline phone service.
“We’ve been sort of maintaining the status quo as fees have gone down and costs have been going up, and absorbing more out of the general fund. Now we’re just trying to get it more in sync with what our actual expenses are,” Uhler said.
If the increased fees can generate enough money, Uhler would like to see city officials try to restore a part-time dispatch position that was cut three years ago and maybe add a second.
The dispatch center is transitioning to a staffing model with one supervisor and eight full-time employees. Part-time employees could help cut down on overtime costs and new-employee training costs and ease strain on full-time employees, Uhler said.
“There are periods of time when we don’t have adequate numbers of staff,” Uhler said of the dispatch center. “There are improvements we need to make and this additional revenue might help us transition to make those improvements.”
Trash rates going up
South Tahoe Refuse’s residential and commercial customers will see a 2.78 percent rate increase take effect on Jan. 1.
South Lake Tahoe City Council approved the requested rate increase in December.
Base rates for trash service are reviewed every three years. But interim rate increases such as this one are allowed to cover things such as inflation and changes in landfill disposal costs.