- Associated Press - Thursday, October 29, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the validity of a fee assessed by Campbell County to pay for 911, a ruling that carries broader implications as local governments struggle to pay for emergency communications services.

In a 5-2 decision, the high court rejected an appeal claiming the fee levied by Campbell County Fiscal Court violated the state’s constitution.

The fee, passed in 2013, was challenged by the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association.

The county’s $45 annual fee is levied on occupied housing and commercial units in the northern Kentucky county. It replaced a landline subscriber fee to support 911 that was shrinking as more people abandon landlines.

Other cities and counties across Kentucky have faced similar problems in relying on landline fees.

Denny Nunnelley, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Counties, said Thursday that finding the funds to maintain or upgrade 911 has become a challenge for many local governments as people switch from landlines to cellphones.

Many county governments are dipping into general operating budgets to help support 911, he said.

“We know this won’t solve all of the 911 problems, but certainly it will put another tool in the tool belt of our counties to use in an attempt to adequately fund the 911 centers,” Nunnelley said of the court’s ruling.

The decision also was applauded by the Kentucky League of Cities. Laura Milam Ross, a legal counsel for the organization, said the ruling means cities can “rest assurred that the flexibility granted by the General Assembly in the user fee statutes remains intact.”

Henderson Mayor Steve Austin also called the ruling “a big win” for cities and counties that provide 911 services.

“It gives us an alternative way to collect that fee from the possible users of the 911 system,” he said.

In his majority opinion, Justice Bill Cunningham said Campbell County officials acted within their constitutional and statutory authority in levying the fee on occupied residential and commercial units. Those properties are “an exceedingly logical and practical object of the fee revenue,” he said.

“It naturally follows that demand for this 911 emergency telephone service derives significantly from residents’ occupation and use of those properties,” he wrote.

The apartment association said the levy amounted to an impermissible user fee in violation of state law. The group claimed the levy should be invalidated because it imposed a user fee not based on actual use of the service.

Everyone benefits from 911, Cunningham wrote, and “to assess payment upon only those citizens actually telephoning 911 is not, nor has it ever been, the policy of our counties or our commonwealth.”

Cunningham was joined by justices Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, David Allen Barber, Michelle Keller and Mary Noble.

The majority upheld a circuit court ruling in favor of the county. The case bypassed the Court of Appeals and went directly to the Supreme Court.

The ruling drew a dissent from Justice Daniel Venters. He was joined by Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.

Venters said the levy actually “bears all the hallmarks of a tax.” And because it is a tax on property that’s not assessed on an ad valorem basis, it violates Kentucky’s constitution, he said.

“The Campbell County 911 ‘service fee’ looks like a tax, it is assessed like a tax and it is collected like a tax,” Venters said. “It is a tax.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide