On July 29th, 2015 Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 911, now known as “PA Act 12”. Act 12 provides for a subscriber fee to be applied for any device that is capable of connecting to 911, to provide funding to support the operation of any 9-1-1 center operated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Beginning in 1990, wireline telephones were assessed a flat rate surcharged based on the class of the county in which the wireline (telephone) was located. For Monroe County, that surcharge was $1.25 per line, per month, which was charged on your monthly telephone bill.
Within 15 years, there was an explosive onset of cellular telephone devices. While cellular service was expanding, wireline services were shrinking as people replaced their wireline telephone service with wireless (cellular) telephone service. Overall, 9-1-1 systems across the Commonwealth began realizing a loss of at least ten percent (10%) per month of the supporting income the wireline telephone surcharge was providing. Recognizing this loss, the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania modified the law to institute a flat rate $1.00 per month per device surcharge on all wireless telephone devices in addition to the surcharge being collected on wireline telephones. This surcharge was charged on your monthly cellular, or wireless telephone bill.
Surcharges collected through the amended act were remitted to PA Emergency Management Agency. In order to fund their operations, each 9-1-1 center was required to submit annual applications to the fund to support their operational costs.
Over the years following the explosion of cellular or wireless technology, the Monroe County Control Center realized that our call volume was significantly impacted by the addition of cellular devices to the social landscape. More than 75% of our 911 calls are now received from wireless or cellular devices, where a mere 25% are received from wireline telephones. The 911 center will now receive multiple reports of incidents, such as motor vehicle accidents or fires, instead of just 1 or 2.
With the advancement of wireless technology, Voice over IP, or VoIP replaced much of the traditional wireline telephone subscriber base. The legislature quickly recognized that the 911 centers were, once again, losing another significant portion of the original wireline surcharge income to this new technology.
In 2015 the new law was passed, which provides for funding 911 operations throughout the Commonwealth by means of a single, uniform subscriber fee of $1.65 per month on any device that can access 911. The law also provides for the subscriber fee to be applied to any new technology that may be made available to the public, regardless of the type of technology that is being utilized so as long as the device is capable of placing a call for help to 9-1-1.
These fees are now collected by the State Treasurer from any carrier, or seller of any device, and then passed to all 911 centers operating in the Commonwealth in a fair and equitable manner. The formula for distribution of the funds is still under development, and should be completed by September 30, 2015. What is clear is that even this user fee does not pay for the total cost of 9-1-1 operations in Monroe County, or any other county. Any normal operating costs, such as personnel, radio systems, telephone systems, network and computer systems, and office supplies that exceed the amount of the funding remain the responsibility of the tax base of the county. Some counties make this shortage up by using tax revenue, while others charge for service.
In the case of the Monroe County Control Center, we assess each user municipality a fee, based on population and the type of services the municipality has requested (police, fire, medical, etc.). Some municipalities do not have local police departments, therefore, pay a per capita fee based on fire and emergency medical service dispatch only. Other municipalities, with local police departments, pay a higher per capita fee for fire, emergency medical service, and police dispatch. In addition, dispatch fees are paid by Monroe County for dispatching all types of emergency services throughout the county, including dispatching for county agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department. Universities and school districts also pay a per capita fee for additional radio usage and emergency services. This per capita fee is determined each year in August during the budget preparation for the following calendar year.
The Monroe County Control Center actively and aggressively pursues other types of revenue in order to reduce the amount of the per capita fees charged to each participating municipality. The dispatch and per capita fees are sources of revenue that provide approximately 30% of the annual operating budget of the Monroe County Control Center.
The per capita fee has not increased in a number of years due to the ability of the Monroe County Control Center to continue to keep costs controlled, and to generate revenue from tower space leases, grants, and other sources.
On a positive note, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has facilitated research that has shown Pennsylvania has one of the least expensive, most centralized, and most efficient 9-1-1 systems than any other state in the US, which includes the model under which the Monroe County Control Center operates.