Centre County commissioners back statewide 911 funding reform

County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday in support of 911 funding reform, saying the legislation that structures the funding for 911 services is outdated.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has identified 911 funding reform as the No. 1 priority in the state, Commissioner Michael Pipe said. This is mainly due to the fact that people are using cellphones to make emergency calls instead of traditional land lines.

When the law was enacted in 1990, land lines were the main technology used to call 911, Emergency Communications Director Dale Neff said.

“The surcharges for land-line phones (were) fair,” he said, “and the money came directly to the county.”

Once wireless devices entered the picture, he said, funds stopped coming directly to the county. Money collected from wireless devices instead went to a pool in the state treasury. In order for a county to be reimbursed, an application had to be made justifying eligibility.

“Staff and 911 directors have to spend an inordinate amount of time tracking the money,” he said.

This year, 911 operations were subsidized by Centre County taxpayers to the tune of more than $1 million, twice as much as was contributed in 2002, Neff said.

Under the current model, the amount of public money needed to fund 911 in the county will continue to rise, he said, as land-line funds dwindle.

New legislation would say that any technology with the ability to call 911 would be captured, Pipe said, and new fees charged for 911 service on cellphone bills would adequately reflect the funding needs for the county system.

The current legislation is set to expire in June. The hope, commissioners said, is to have new legislation before that occurs.