PA 911 Dispatch Centers Face Continual Funding Shortfall


FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. -  Emergency dispatch centers in Pennsylvania have been facing a continual decline in funding for years, as lawmakers search for a better way to collect money for the system.

"It is becoming a greater and greater burden, not just on Franklin County but on counties throughout the Commonwealth. Consequently we are looking for a legislative remedy for this,” said David Donohue, director of Franklin County Emergency Services.

Pennsylvania 911 centers are funded by phone surcharges and county tax dollars. A 1990 state requires landline owners to pay about $1-$1.50 every month. Wireless and voice-over IP services have a $1 fee.

However those fees have not changed for more than a decade since the law was passed.

“Technology is very expensive,” said Donohue. “The life cycle on a system is shorter than it was even 15 years ago. The number of upgrades required on a system has dramatically increased."

That means as dispatch centers upgrade technology and as more people get rid of their landlines, there has been a funding shortfall.

"At one time the system was completely funded through the user surcharge,” said Donohue.

In 2009, two-thirds of the funding came from surcharges. Today, it makes up less than half, according to Donohue. The county has had to pick up the rest of the bill using property taxes.

"Over the past five years, because of inflation, because of technology costs, the ability for the 911 funding mechanism through the telecom surcharge has not been able to keep up with that,” said Donohue.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are currently trying to figure out a better way to fund dispatch centers, and emergency services administrators are hoping the solution will be one that can cover the ever-changing technology they are required by the government to keep up with.

The state 911 funding law expired at the end of June but was extended for another year as lawmakers try to figure out a more long-term solution.

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