Westmoreland County officials push for more 911 funding
Westmoreland County Public Safety Department officials and county commissioners met with state legislators Wednesday afternoon to lobby for an increase of state funding for the 911 emergency call system.
Counties throughout Pennsylvania receive state funding for their 911 systems through a $1.25 surcharge assessed to every land line telephone.
The state also collects $1 for every cellphone and wireless line. A percentage of that money is forwarded to counties.
Wireless phones, though, have outpaced the use of land lines in recent years. And the state law that authorized the $1 wireless phone surcharge for 911 is due to expire on June 30.
“We're in a very bad spot,” said Brian Jones, the public safety director for Westmoreland County.
The county collected $3.2 million from the wireless phone surcharge last year, which accounted for about 38 percent of 911 center operations. Jones said more than two-thirds of all calls to the 911 center last year were made from cellphones.
Commissioners not only want the $1 surcharge reauthorized, they want it to be increased.
Local officials proposed a law that will allow counties to charge telephone users no more than $3 for 911 services, no matter whether they use landlines or cell phones.
“We're asking people to pay 75 cents more. We're talking cents here,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said of the proposed increase.
Without the additional cash, commissioners said, all capital improvement projects not yet started would have to be abandoned, dispatching services could be returned to local municipalities or county taxes might have to be increased.
“There are several options available,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.
State representatives Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township; George Dunbar, R-Penn Township; and Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, along with state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, on Wednesday told commissioners they were confident the wireless surcharge would be renewed.
Reese said no legislation has been formally introduced to do so and he's aware of no plans to increase the surcharge.
Reese and the other lawmakers asked that county officials submit a clear picture of the financial ramifications of the funding problem.
“I suspect a reauthorization is likely. The real question is will there be an increase and we need a better understanding for the need. We need harder numbers,” Reese said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com.
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