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Senate Committee Finds 'True Costs' of 9-1-1 Higher Than Current Funding

Neon Tommy

More than 9 million 9-1-1 calls are made in Pennsylvania each year to call centers serving 67 counties and two cities. Fielding all these calls requires a lot of employees and increasingly high-tech facilities in which they can work. And all of this costs money—lots of money.

The Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee met recently to discuss renewing the 1996 Emergency Telephone Act, which expires June 30 and outlines funding guidelines for Pennsylvania dispatch centers.

Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), chairman of the committee, outlined two issues that he feels need to be addressed before legislation can be drafted to continue 9-1-1 funding. First, he said, legislators will need to decide how to charge Pennsylvania residents for 9-1-1 services. Then, legislators must provide room in the final bill for technological advances and upgrades that dispatch centers should have in the future.

In 2013, total expenditures for Pennsylvania call centers totaled $284.5 million, while only $171.3 million was provided in funding from the state, leaving counties and cities to cover the gap.  In Allegheny County, income from Landline, VOIP and Wireless revenues totaled $15,509,322 in 2014 according to the County Executive's office. It costs $23,247,826 to run the 9-1-1 center. The remaining $7,738,504 was covered by the county budget.

Landline surcharges go directly to the host 9-1-1 centers but the cell phone charges are sent to the state and the  Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) hands them out to the counties based on a request application.  Further, those funds passed through the state cannot be used to fund personnel costs at the 9-1-1 centers.

Flynn called for a quick resolution to PEMA funding problems, and said legislators have many option to consider, including a percentage of a phone user's bill instead of the flat rate.

Senator Bob Mensch (R- Berks) intends to draft legislation to continue 9-1-1 funding after more discussion and input, he said, but in time to make the June 30 deadline