County commissioners from across Pennsylvania have identified 911 services funding reform as their top priority issue for 2015. As state funding sources have not been updated, counties have had to make up the difference in supporting their systems from local tax dollars. This week, the Chamber Board joined with the commissioners in urging the Legislature to update fees to avoid further burdens on local property taxpayers.
Counties assumed responsibility for 911 service with the 1990 adoption of the state Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act. That legislation provided funding in the form of a monthly fee on land lines of $1.00 to $1.50, with a $1 fee on cell phones and VoIP lines implemented later. As the fees have not been updated, and county systems need to be upgraded regularly to work with new communications technologies, the funding covers an average of 70 percent of counties’ cost according to a 2012 report issued by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. The cell phone fee is also scheduled to sunset at the end of June.
Last Monday, commissioners from Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Juniata counties held a press conference in Selinsgrove to bring attention to this issue. They were joined by Senator John Gordner and Representatives Kurt Masser, Fred Keller and Linda Schlegel Culver. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says that an across the board increase to $2 would generate an additional $100 million statewide. The commissioners are also suggesting that reform legislation include a mechanism to account for inflation and new technologies that may use 911 systems, such as OnStar. Additional information is available at www.pacounties.org.
Columbia and Montour County Commissioners have been working with other counties in the region to share 911 infrastructure and manage costs in providing this essential service. However, the lack of adequate funding is resulting in hundreds of thousands being used from local tax revenues to maintain and upgrade systems. At its regularly monthly meeting yesterday, the Chamber Board approved the attached letter calling on our state delegation and the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee to update the fee structure. The Chamber is also asking other chambers across the state to contact their legislators as well.