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Blair commissioner seeks help for 911 operations

Webster calls for changes to improve funding county centers

HOLLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County commissioner is echoing a call for changes that will improve funding for county 911 centers.

While the state provides allocations and grants to help county 911 centers, Commissioner Amy Webster said Thursday that there’s a need to focus on developing a formula to sustain county 911 operations and to replace a funding formula due to expire in 2024.

“Counties are requesting action from Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Legislature, emergency management professionals and the communications industry to create reforms and to find sustainable funding sources,” Webster said.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, which lobbies legislators on behalf of county governments, earlier this year identified financial support for 911 operations as one of several 2022 legislative priorities.

“Our 911 system faces significant challenges, including rapidly evolving technology requirements, and a funding stream whose failure to keep pace with the need requires counties to rely increasingly on the property tax,” said Tioga County Commissioner Mark Hamilton, who co-chairs CCAP Emergency Medical Services Task Force.

Webster offered the same conclusion in the remarks she rendered at Thursday’s commissioners meeting.

“The technology to operate 911 centers has improved greatly,” the commissioner said. “But the cost to upgrade and replace equipment and provide proficient, expert services leaves counties in the precarious position of having to invest increasing amounts from our tax dollars to provide these emergency services.”

Webster also mentioned developing efforts toward introduction of a 3-digit suicide hotline — 988 — to replace a 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, with calls being directed through 911 centers. WITF of Philadelphia recently reported that the state plans to advertise the 988 line next year.

“There are concerns, however, regarding how these systems will be integrated and what will be the additional costs, demands on the 911 and emergency system and training required for dispatchers,” Webster said.

Commissioners also voted Thursday to support a grant application to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for $83,400 to cover half of the annual cost of salaries and benefits for the county’s EMA coordinator, operations and training officer and administrative assistant. The application is expected to be approved.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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