(Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 13--JIM THORPE -- Carbon County commissioners recognized its emergency dispatchers for this week's National Public Safety Communicators Week as county commissioners statewide wrestled with the potential loss of a key stream of funding for their 911 communications centers.
At Thursday's meeting, Commissioner Chairman Wayne Nothstein called the coincidence ironic. He planned to sit in on a conference call later in the day with county commissioners from across the state and other stakeholders to address the problems with the soon-to-end legislation that regulates 911 funding.
"The laws sunset at the end of June 2014, this year," he said. "If legislation is not passed or changes made to the current legislation at the end of June, we will lose all funding sources."
Carbon stands to lose $800,000 or more in wireless and landline telephone surcharges funds annually if a solution isn't found, said Gary Williams, communications center director. In previous years, the county received more than $1.2 million, he said.
The Public Safety and Emergency Telephone Act, which was adopted in 1990, set up the framework and funding for 911 and allowed it to develop statewide. The funds come from monthly surcharges on wireline, wireless and voice over Internet protocol.
The funds, however, do not cover all of the county's costs associated with the 911 system, which is evolving with the new and emerging technologies, according to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania website.
Keeping up with the changing technologies is also a problem for counties, Nothstein said. On Thursday, the commissioners spent more than $175,000 to update its 911 paging system, which is failing, he said.
Williams expects the new paging system, a Tait QS2 simulcast alerting system being installed by TuWay Communications of Bethlehem, to be in place in three to four months. The county will nurse the old paging system using parts purchased from Monroe County, which already updated its system, he said.
As for funding, Nothstein and Williams hope state lawmakers will extend the legislation before it expires, as they continue frame new legislation to address the inadequate funding and changing technology. If not, the county can tap into funds from previous years for another year or two before turning to tax dollars, Williams said.
The commissioners applied for a $11,286 grant through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for the county's Restrictive Intermediate Punishment Project (home electronic monitoring).
Commissioner Tom Gerhard noted that Schuylkill County implemented a pre-release program that allowed the county to reduce its prison population by nearly 40 inmates in five months and it hopes to reduce that number by another 45, he said.
Gerhard wanted to know why the electronic monitoring, or ankle bracelets, isn't being used more in Carbon County given the overcrowding at the prison, and said he already talked with adult probation and set up a meeting with the president judge.
He hopes to have more information for next week's meeting, he said.
In 2013, ankle bracelets were used in 32 cases for DUI offenders, Commissioner William O'Gurek said, and the request for the grant suggests a willingness on the part of the county to use the electronic monitoring more.
Controller Robert Crampsie noted that Schuylkill County invested in additional probation officers to expand its program. Gerhard said Ron Kokinda from adult probation mentioned the need to hire more officers as well.
In other business, the commissioners:
- Approved a three-year contract with the Teamsters Local Union 773, which represents correctional officers. The union had been working without a contract and a dispute went to arbitration, settling at the county's last offer, O'Gurek said.
Workers received no wage increase in 2013 and 3 percent increases in 2014 and 2015, O'Gurek said. They'll also pay more in medical and prescription co-pays, he said.
Gerhard thanked administrators for their efforts in negotiating this contract.
- Approved an agreement with Mailroom Systems Inc. to pick up county mail, pre-sort it and take it to the U.S. Postal Service distribution center at a discounted rate. The switch won't cost the county any money.
The county could save $6,000 or more a year, Nothstein said, but the actual savings aren't known yet. A trial showed lower savings than the company touted, Gerhard said, but there were still savings and no jobs affected, which is why he voted in favor.
All the commissioners expressed some reservations about the switch. The county can opt out of the contract after 30 days if unhappy with the service or savings.
- Released $5,000 in hotel tax funds to Jim Thorpe Borough Council for its police budget related to tourist activities in 2014.
- Appointed Gregory Mousseau of Jim Thorpe to a three-year term on the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission and Barbara Green, president/owner of Blue Mountain Ski Area, to the Pocono Workforce Investment Board.
- Discussed a handicapped accessible ramp for the polling place in Banks Township. After the meeting, Gerhard said he checked with county maintenance, which removed the ramp for repairs and will be reinstalling it before the primary.
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