One Montgomery County commissioner does not feel enough attention nor funding is being directed for the local emergency communications, specifically for the 9-1-1 fund.
“Using a recently released audit of the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety’s 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Fund as a basis, Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor, Jr., who oversees public safety matters for the Board, [recently] renewed his plea to state legislators to take action to fix the outdated fee-based system that is causing county budgets to bleed red ink,” explained county director of communications Frank Custer. He said both democratic commissioners, Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, agreed and joined Castor in “urging legislators to take action.”
At present, the county’s leaders do not feel the state-lead program has been properly funded.
“The funding system for 9-1-1 operations was designed by the Commonwealth to be a fee-based system,” said Custer. “Despite an increase in personnel and technology costs required to operate the system, the General Assembly has failed to increase fee levels, which has required county governments to increasingly supplement operations.”
With the ever-increasing use of cell phones, the county’s commissioners also noted that fees coming from mobile are also not being properly handled. Changes to fees, the audit noted, have not been made to the system’s funding over the past 18 years.
“Additionally, fees from wireless phone lines are not distributed according to county of origination, and Montgomery County is not getting its fair share of the wireless portion of the fees,” said a release from the county.
“The comprehensive audit completed by Controller Stewart Greenleaf and his staff clearly provides the evidence that this funding mechanism is outdated and needs to be changed,” Castor said. “Without action, this problem will only get worse and put a greater burden on Montgomery County and counties across the state.
“The fees (levied on land lines and mobile phones) have not been adjusted since 1996, and the world of telephone communications has changed dramatically since then” Castor continued. “As the number of land lines has continued to decline precipitously, and the fact that wireless fees are not distributed fairly to our county, our taxpayers are on the losing end of this calculus.”
Specifically, Greenleaf and his team reviewed the previous three years. “The audit by Controller Greenleaf examined the financial statements of the Emergency Communications fund for the years 2011, 2012, and 2013,” said Custer. “The audit showed that revenues from the Commonwealth’s funding mechanism fell from $11.6 million in 2011 to $10.1 million in 2013. That is a decline in revenues of 13 percent.”
While revenues fell, the need grew.
“At the same time, personnel costs for the operation of the 9-1-1 system increased by 15 percent going from $8.8 million in 2011 to $10.1 million in 2013,” said Custer’s release.
“The state must meet its obligations to the people of Montgomery County,” said Josh Shapiro, chair of the county commissioners. “The current system is inequitable and must change. We need a system in place at the state level that fully funds the 911 operations, as required by law.”
Montgomery County taxpayers currently are taking up the slack locally, a trend the commissioners want to see ended.
“The Controller’s audit revealed that the county had to augment the 9-1-1 fund with $1.3 million of county taxpayer dollars in 2011,” said Custer. “By 2013 that figure rose to $2.5 million.”
The commissioners are urging state officials to make changes, so that counties such like Montgomery are not stuck holding the bill.
“By the Legislature’s inaction on this issue, they wrongly are creating an unfunded mandate on the people of Montgomery County and taxpayers across the Commonwealth,” said Richards.