Tioga County commissioners say county needs more 911 funding

WELLSBORO – The Tioga County commissioners have adopted an updated emergency plan that emphasized the lack of funds the county receives for its 911 program from fees on wired and wireless phone calls.

According to Commissioner Mark Hamilton, the plan is submitted to the state every three years.

“It is important for the county to pass a new plan in an appropriate time frame to receive 911 funds, but it also proves that the money we get from the wired 911 funds is very much lacking,” he said.

According to Hamilton, the law needs updating because Internet phone services right now are not paying anything, and new forms of communicating, such as texting and multi-media, have yet to be developed for 911.

“Land line use is going down significantly so the dollars we get are decreasing as well,” he said.

According to Hamilton, it costs the county $4.54 per phone to run the 911 system and the county only receives $1.50.

David Cohick, county Emergency Services Director, said the wireless side covers a portion of the difference, but it is allowed to pay only for a certain percentage of expenses that are wireless related.

The remainder is covered by the general fund.

“Telephone costs for us is about $200,000 per year, dispatcher wages and benefits and other costs associated such as maintenance by taking a telephone call, are all extra,” he said.

According to Cohick, “we will be talking about next generation 911 soon.”

“From 1968 to where we are now, and what the next generation will entail,” he added.

Soon, 911 calls will be taken from any device, including text messaging, video and photos from phones, eventually even from a headset on an X Box.

“It is coming, and everything we do in the industry right now is to make sure we are compatible with what takes place in the future,” he said.

Tioga County receives about $350,000 annually from 20,000 land lines, but with land line use decreasing by about 10,000 in the last six years the county has seen a loss of about $180,000 in user fees.

The wireless fees of $1 per month go directly to the state, totaling about $120 million per year.

Cohick said each year he submits a request to funds to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association for costs associated with wireless 911 calls.

“Of the 911 phone calls we get, about 60 percent are wireless, so when I request money, I could ask them for $100,000., but I’m only allowed to get 60 percent or $60,000 on that request for those calls. “We submit for funds eligible by strict criteria and broken down by percentage, if the funding is available. The problem is there is not enough funding to cover all the requests,” he added.