A monthly state tax on North Dakota phone lines and cellphones that finances a relay service used by the deaf will decline this summer, the state Public Service Commission decided Wednesday.
The levy, which is now 5 cents a month, will go down to 4 cents on July 1, the commission said.
It will be assessed on almost 800,000 telephone land lines and cellphones, and that growing number should raise enough money to cover the service's expenses, said Mike Ressler, director of the state Information Technology Department. The number of lines has grown almost 10 percent in the last three years.
Ressler estimated the lower rate would raise more than $362,000, while the relay service, which is provided by the Sprint long distance company, will cost about $253,000.
The service is used by people who have difficulty hearing or speaking. It provides a toll-free number and an operator who translates calls.
Often, a person who is using the service types on a device that sends text messages over the telephone line, and the call translator tells the person on the other end what is being written. When the person gives a vocal response, the translator then types the responses so the deaf person can read it.
The service's usage has been steady in recent years, said Brenda Weisz, the chief financial officer for the Department of Human Services. The agency is allocated $125,000 annually to buy equipment for clients who need help using the phone.
"There has been a consistent demand," Weisz said Wednesday.
The service was established in 1993. The monthly tax is limited to 11 cents per line, and it has ranged from 3 cents to 10 cents during its life.