Centre County could see 911 funding dry up by 2014

If no preventative action is taken, Centre County could see a sharp decline in 911 funding come 2014.

Under the current structure, the money allocated to the counties from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency could stop flowing by the 2014 fiscal year, which would leave the county scrambling to replace as much as $2 million to pay for the system functions, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem.

“If this fund is in default, we’ve got to come up with another $1.5 to $2 million that’s not anticipated, and that’s frightening,” he said at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.

The problem is with owed funding to counties, which is restricting the allocation of new funding, said Jonathan Hansen, director of PEMA’s 911 center. He added that the fund is “not going to go broke.”

The fund comprises $1 per month surcharges on cellphones and between $1 and $1.50 per month for landline phones. County 911 centers apply for the funding, and PEMA distributes the funding, giving 50 percent of the money upfront and guaranteeing the other 50 percent the next year.

The problem, Hansen said, is that by 2014, the sum owed to the counties will be too large to approve new funding for the next year.

Hansen said legislation to cancel the carryover program has passed the state House of Representatives, but it has yet to be acted on by the Senate. The action ultimately would cost the counties money but maintain the long-term survivability of the program.

Centre County’s allocation varies from year to year but is about $600,000 annually on average, said Dan Tancibok, director of the Centre County Office of Emergency Communications.

The county receives nearly 50,000 calls each year, about 70 percent of which come from cellphones, a number that continues to increase, Tancibok said.

Changes to the system would have to come on a legislative level, and state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said he would be happy to work with the county and help to find a solution to the looming concern.

“It’s obviously an issue that needs to be dealt with,” he said. “We’ll work with the counties to make sure that funding is available.”

The legislation should come before the Senate in the next session, Hansen said.

Though, an option could be to increase the fee, Hansen said he doesn’t see that happening.

“I know that the current administration does not look favorably upon increases of fees or new fees,” he said.

The landline fee started in 1990, but the cellphone fee wasn’t instituted until 2004 when the mobile devices started to become more popular, Hansen said.

Dershem said that funding is very important, and as a commissioner he just wants to see that money to continue flowing, adding that Centre County has been treated “fairly but not luxuriously.”

“That’s not one source of revenue we’d like to see dry up,” he said.