Pennsylvania House approves increase in 911 phone bill fee to $1.65
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvanians could soon be paying a larger monthly fee on their phone bills as a result of state House passage Monday of a measure designed to help counties fund their 911 emergency communications centers.
The House voted 134-59 to increase to $1.65 a month a fee that ranges from $1 to $1.50. The legislation would have to pass the Senate and get the governor’s support.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has sought a doubling in the fee, to $2.
Supporters said counties are struggling with operational and technology costs.
“This is public safety; this is lives on the line,” said Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, a former police officer.
Critics argued that the money is not needed and current state revenues should be sufficient to pay the cost.
“What is enough for emergency services? What is enough for any government services?” said Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Somerset. “Our job is to draw the line, and I respectfully request that we draw it far lower.”
Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said his city fields a large number of 911 calls so it should have a greater say in how the revenue is split up.
“In one day, we get more calls than many counties get in a whole month,” Harris said.
If a new version of the 25-year-old 911 Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act is not enacted by the end of June, the wireless portion of the fee will expire, provoking a financial crisis.
The 911 surcharge on phone bills brought in $173 million of the $192 million in allowable cost for the dispatch centers a decade ago, but by last year, that gap had grown to $188 million in revenue for $292 million in cost. By one estimate, the bill that passed the House would generate $326 million annually.
A Senate Republican spokeswoman has said her members are optimistic they will be able to pass something before the end of June.
In addition to increasing rates, the bill makes a strong push for the state’s last two city-run 911 dispatch centers — in Allentown and Bethlehem — to consolidate with Lehigh and Northampton counties. The city 911 centers would not be outlawed, but 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.