In The News: Paying for 911 Calls

March 29th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

The controversy surrounding a city’s plan to charge for emergency calls.

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The Responsibility Project

When the city of Tracy, California, announced it would charge residents $300 for placing a 911 emergency medical call, a solution to municipal deficit mushroomed into a national debate about personal versus governmental responsibility.

Sacramento’s CBS 13 news reported that the city planned to fill some of its $9 million budget deficit by levying 911 fees, giving Tracy residents a choice of paying a “voluntary” annual charge of $48 per household for unlimited 911 calls, or $300 at the time of a call.

Residents were predictably opposed to the plan. “This is a terrible idea,” one commented, “especially when people already pay taxes for emergency services.” Another hypothesized, “I see a cop get shot by a thug. So the city is going to charge me $300 for calling 911?”

The story gathered national attention, culminating with an opinion piece by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times. Writing about the Tracy 911 charges in a column entitled “The Fat Lady Has Sung,” Friedman said “it feels as if we are entering a new era” — described by Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum as one “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people.”

Tell us what you think: Is it right for governments to charge residents for placing 911 emergency calls? How much would you be willing to pay per call?