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Friday, February 6, 2015

Potter County Joins In Statewide 911 Funding Lobby

Current Funding For 911 is unrealistic to meet needs

91111The Potter County Commissioners have joined many of their counterparts from across Pennsylvania in renewing a push for reform in the outdated funding system for 911 emergency communications systems that counties are legally required to operate and staff. A funding mechanism involving monthly surcharges on telephone bills has failed to generate enough revenue to cover those costs and counties have been forced to turn to local taxpayers to cover the gap. 

Goal of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP)  is to urge the General Assembly to address the shortcomings in the coming months.

Lawmakers are split on which remedies are best, while counties are left having to bear greater responsibility for rising costs  in providing the state-mandated 911 service. County officials have been working with the Pa. Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), legislative committees, emergency management professionals and others to forge solutions. 

Objectives include an ability to accommodate all current and emerging communication technologies (including texting and social networking platforms) and consolidation of 911 dispatching services and communications networks where practical. Three separate fees in the current law – wireline, wireless, and VoIP – would be blended into a unified system for planning, funding, establishment of allowable costs and auditing.

Current structure is a monthly surcharge ranging from $1.00 to $1.50 per month for wireline, and $1.00 per month for wireless and VoIP. Wireline fees have not changed since 1990 and the wireless and VoIP fees were keyed to the 1990 wireline rates. 

Intent of the original law was to fully fund counties’ eligible 911 costs so local taxpayers would not be forced to subsidize the service. This presumed counties would have an initial capital cost to install the systems, and then the funds would be used for system operation and periodic equipment replacement. 

That expectation was unrealistic. 

The onslaught of technological change was unforeseen and dramatically altered the ability of the funding structure to meet county needs. The need to address the funding stream is immediate, due to the June 30 expiration of the wireless telephone subscriber surcharge.

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