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Charge for Call Box Fund Is Questioned

Citing a reserve fund of about $1.5 million, a Ventura County transportation commissioner is questioning whether the county should continue charging a $1 vehicle registration fee to help pay for highway call boxes.

“That’s an awful lot of money to be sitting in an account,” said Frank Schillo, who serves on the commission and the County Board of Supervisors. “Why do we keep it if we don’t use it?”

Schillo has asked the commission staff to report back to the seven-member panel next month on the call box budget and reserve fund, which cannot be used for any other purpose.

“The question I’m asking is, can we eliminate this $1 fee?” Schillo said. “We need to have some detailed information so the commission can decide.”

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The transportation commission collected $585,000 in vehicle registration fees and another $110,000 in interest and grant money during fiscal 1995-96 to pay for the call box program. But according to a commission report, it cost $947,000 that year to insure, maintain and operate the county’s 505 existing call boxes. Cash from the reserve fund made up the deficit.

Christopher Stephens, planning manager for the commission, said current plans call for adding more call boxes to those highways that are widened. For instance, he noted that a portion of California 126 near Fillmore that is being expanded from two to four lanes would now require two dozen call boxes instead of just a dozen. Each new call box costs $2,700, including installation.

The county’s call boxes average about 2,400 calls a month, a number that has remained steady throughout the six years of the program, officials said. Increased usage of cellular telephones by motorists in recent years has kept the number from going even higher.

Stephens said he will have a full report on plans for the call box program as well as newly projected operating and maintenance costs for the Transportation Commission to consider at its April 4 meeting.

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