We have all heard a lot about unfunded mandates and how they affect our taxes at the local level. Most often we hear about mandates related to pensions and health benefits. As the State pension system is earning less revenue in this economy, local governments (and school districts) must contribute more to it for their employees. Also the total cost of health benefit plans of employees must be funded regardless of whether employees make contributions or not.
There are, of course, many other mandates from the State and Federal government that may not be as large in dollar costs, or as well known, but still require something from the local government that isn’t reimbursed. Some might be as small as the State now requiring municipalities to take over all dog licensing. Others might be the requirement for certain types of training for employees or having certain equipment available in public buildings. The costs of all of these, literally hundreds if not thousands of mandates, are paid for at the lowest level of the tax spectrum – local governments or school districts – through property taxes.
Recently I became aware of another unfunded mandate from the federal government – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is called the FCC Narrowbanding Mandate. It requires that all public safety licensees using a 25 kHz bandwidth channel for their radio communications now go to 12.5 kHz width (i.e. a narrow band). This means local Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services must either upgrade or replace their radios. Most all of the above safety groups use the wider band currently.
The FCC is requiring this in order to allow more channels to operate within the same spectrum space. This is important because the 25 kHz width has become very congested, often resulting in interference in communicating in public safety
situations. The narrower bandwidth will allow more channels to become available for these important communications. That is certainly a good reason. What is not so good is that no financial help has been made available to help communities achieve this.
The deadline by which all communications of this sort must be on a 12.5 kHz channel is January 1, 2013. Admittedly, this mandate was set in place several years ago. New radios purchased in recent years can mostly be upgraded to use the narrower band width. However many fire and police departments are still operating with older radios which cannot be upgraded. All that don’t meet the new requirement must replaced by the deadline.
The consequences of not doing so means the possibility of losing safety and emergency communication capability. Locally, the cost of purchasing the new radios is running into an excess of $50,000 - not an insignificant amount picked up by the local property taxpayer.