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Politics & Government

Higher Phone Fees For 911 Centers Heads To Governor

The state Senate has approved a measure to make sure Pennsylvanians’ emergency 911 calls are answered. By a unanimous vote, the chamber sent the plan to Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports the legislation.

Backers of the plan say county emergency dispatch centers are underfunded and disorganized. Their proposal would hike monthly fees on phones to shore up the system.

“The running of our 911 centers, which are open seven days a week and 24 hours a day, with very expensive equipment, and with the advent of next-generation technologies for texting, Skyping, video, etc., has become a very expensive responsibility,” said Rep. Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware), who sponsored the 911 centers funding bill.

A new monthly fee would be $1.65 on all cell phones, landlines, and Internet calling services (such as Skype and the iPhone’s Facetime). The surcharge increase amounts to between 15 and 65 cents.

The measure also preserves funding for the only two cities that have their own 911 centers — Allentown and Bethlehem. Those facilities will be targeted for consolidation with their host counties’ facilities in the next four years, said Barrar.

Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said Republican leaders were “disappointed” to see the House strip out a Senate amendment to include an additional $52 annual fee.

The legislation heads governor’s desk within days of the expiration date of the existing phone surcharges to fund 911 centers.