Pa. bill pushes for consolidation of 911 centers
The legislation would increase surcharges on monthly phone bills, and channel the funds to counties, encouraging cities to join a regional dispatch center
By Emily Opilo
The Morning Call
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A bill that would push Allentown and Bethlehem's 911 centers to consolidate with local county dispatch centers was approved by the state House Monday and is headed to the Senate.
The bill, which would update the Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act, would increase surcharges on monthly phone bills to $1.65 to fund 911 centers across the state. Surcharges are currently $1.25 for landlines in the Lehigh Valley and $1 for cell phones. Landline fees have not been updated since the 1990s.
In addition to increasing rates, the bill makes a strong push for the state's last two remaining city-run 911 dispatch centers, located in Allentown and Bethlehem, to consolidate with Lehigh and Northampton counties. While city 911 centers would not be outlawed, the bill calls for 911 money to be channeled to counties rather than cities, and city-run centers would be directed to join a county or regional dispatch center.
House members approved the bill by a vote of 134-59.
The bill passed in spite of an effort from Lehigh Valley lawmakers two weeks ago to maintain the status quo for Allentown and Bethlehem. State Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, offered several unsuccessful amendments including one that would have kept funding for the two centers and another that would have permitted the cities to merge with each other.
The bill restricts how municipalities can regionalize. Regional systems are defined as those with two or more counties. City officials have discussed merging Allentown and Bethlehem's 911 systems in the past, but have been resistant to joining area county systems.
State Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Chester, who introduced the bill, argued previously that 911 centers across the state have already consolidated. The new bill encourages regionalization in an effort to save money across the commonwealth, he said, reminding his fellow legislators that a vote in support of Schweyer's amendments was a vote to reduce funding for counties.
As passed, the bill creates a new 911 board which will assist with decisions about the allocation of 911 funding. Representatives from city-run 911 centers are not eligible to sit on the board.
The bill must be passed by the Senate and approved by Gov. Tom Wolf before it can become law.
©2015 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)