The regional district's chief administrator is part of the group investigating adding 911 charges to your cell phone bill.
Regional District of Fraser-Fort George CAO Jim Martin had his first meeting with the Wireless Levy Committee, a function of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, in late January.
The committee features representatives from local government, the province and wireless telecommunications industry. It was struck following a successful resolution from the city of Nanaimo, at the organization's fall conference in Victoria, to lobby the province to enact legislation requiring all phone service providers to collect a fee to contribute to the costs associated with delivering the 911 service.
The Vancouver Island municipality was seeking support after a B.C. Supreme Court decision struck down the city's 911 call answer levy bylaw last summer. The two-year-old rule required wireless service providers to pay a call answer levy so that the revenues could be used to fund the area's 911 service.
However, the industry argued - and the court agreed - that the requirement to collect a 911 levy from their customers or pay a $30 fee for every local 911 call placed on their networks amounted to an illegal tax.
A similar type of provincial law exists in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan and is about to be enacted in Alberta.
Martin is part of the team doing some further investigation and providing advice to the Ministry of Justice to see if such legislation would work in B.C.
"The local government group has met once to talk about terms of reference and where we see this going and what it may become over time," he said, adding his involvement stems from the fact the regional district provides or contracts 911 service across most of northern B.C., for those living in the Cariboo, Bulkley-Nechako and Kitimat-Stikine regional districts.
"The idea around the wireless levy is that we're seeing a significant increase in wireless phones out there and want to evaluate [whether] they should be contributing towards the 911 system and the operation of it," said Martin.
Bell Mobility users are charged a 911 services fee, though those funds "are not required or collected on behalf of any government," according to its terms of service. Rogers customers who signed up after the fall of 2009 are charged a Government Regulatory Recovery Fee, which includes "costs related to providing our customers with access to emergency services" such as 911 costs and CRTC contribution costs. Telus Mobility has incorporated their 911 and system access fee into their overall rate plan instead of listing it as a separate line item.
Within the regional district boundary, 911 service is paid for through a tax on land and improvements.
"Certainly from our perspective as a regional district, we're going to want to understand: does it make sense, will it help offset some of the costs we currently have or will it allow us to enhance the services over time?" Martin said. "Because with technology changing so quickly we see all kinds of other things happening... the landscape is changing so quickly."