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Rising costs prompt 911 center to study its future

| Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

The fate of the Northwest Regional 911 dispatch center will be decided by summer.

Faced with rising costs and concern that some communities are subsidizing other communities when in comes to expenses, Northwest officials have decided to study the "viability" of the 911 provider, said Ambrose Rocca, Franklin Park manager and a member of Northwest's administrative committee. Results of this study are expected by June 30.

Northwest 911 was created in June 1996 and is one of five "public safety answering points" in Allegheny County. Northwest handles 911 calls for 25 communities, including Bellevue, Ben Avon, Coraopolis, Franklin Park, McCandless, Ohio Township and Robinson Township.

All communities would continue to have 911 service, regardless of what decision is reached.

John Sullivan, Ohio Township manager and a Northwest committee member, said he expects the committee to consider everything from merging with Allegheny County 911 to remaining independent and coming up with a growth plan that could include serving additional communities.

The idea of dissolving — or at least changing — Northwest Regional 911 recently surfaced, in part, because of a move by Franklin Park officials last year.

Citing cost increases, Franklin Park Council decided to look into switching to Allegheny County 911; or switching to NEWCOM Emergency Communications — which handles calls for a number of North Hills communities; or staying with Northwest.

While Franklin Park officials said they have been happy with Northwest's service, council members said they were tired of subsidizing other communities. The borough's cost for 911 service this year is expected to be $96,000, which is more than twice what it paid six years ago.

Communities supporting the 911 center currently pay based on population and assessed property values.

Originally, the Northwest Board of Directors only planned to base rates on the two factors for a few years and then switch to using a rate formula based solely on population and number of calls originating from each area.

At first, considering call volume wasn't possible because the center had no way to keep track of calls on a community-by-community basis.

Then, last year, the Northwest board decided that even though the center can count 911 calls, they would not be considered in billing matters in 2003.

The reason, board members said, is because several smaller communities — which also had a high 911 call volumes — could not afford the increases the new formula would bring.

Instead, the Northwest board decided to stick with the old method plus a 10 percent across-the-board increase.

Although Franklin Park officials originally considered pulling out of Northwest and independently joining the county 911 system, Rocca said, county officials said they did not want to break Northwest's coverage area into pieces and only would consider a complete merger with Northwest and all its communities.

If the county was to provide 911 service to borough residents, the borough would not have to pay a fee, Rocca said. The expenses of Allegheny County 911 are covered by all county residents, who under state law pay a 911 fee on their phone bills.

Inquiries about Allegheny County 911 were directed to Robert Full, chief of emergency services. Full did not return phone calls Thursday.

Dan Nussbaum, Northwest's new executive director who started this week, could not be reached yesterday.

Whether Northwest officials decide to disband or not, eventually all 911 providers in the county are expected to merge into one countywide system. That, however, is still several years away, officials said.

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