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New PEMA 9-1-1 Funding Formula Could Cost Clarion County $300K

Thursday, August 6, 2020 @ 12:08 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

Jeff SmathersCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A new funding formula under consideration by PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) for funding 9-1-1 has 35 variations. Many of the options leave counties like Clarion holding the short end of the stick.

PEMA’s funding for 9-1-1 comes from a $1.65 surcharge on all cell phones and landline telephone bills and are distributed by PEMA, using a formula based on rural mileage. Still, the revised formula would drop rural mileage and favor population density. Such a change could be disastrous for Clarion County. The funding is restricted to only 9-1-1 expenses.

A cut in the neighborhood of $300,000.00 would have to come from a total 9-1-1 budget of about $1.1 million.

“Those two factors do not play well for a rural area like ours because we have 54 miles of Interstate 80,” said Clarion County Public Safety Director Jeff Smathers this week at a meeting of the commissioners. “We’re responsible for tens of thousands of vehicles that are not permissible to include in the calculations. Our argument back to the state is that we need to reconsider formula proposals.”

More populous counties would benefit from such a change and rural counties would likely suffer.

“We get about 38 percent of our calls right off I-80, and for one winter storm, we could get 200 calls. People call to report emergencies, and we have process every one of those calls.”

Commissioner Wayne Brosius said the only good thing he could see if this change took place was that it wouldn’t take effect until the following year.

“We’re very supportive of Jeff in this endeavor,” said Commissioner Ed Heasley. “We want to keep the funding formula. Jeff came to us months ago, and we’ve been working with the State Commissioners Association.”

Talks are ongoing about the funding formula.

“We’ll go back to the table and think this thing through because you’re dramatically going to affect a lot of counties negatively,” said Smathers. “We simply will ask that very nicely. We can document all of our expenditures and show how they are needed in Clarion County.”

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