Opinion: The value of life-saving emergency services is worth the price tag

September 13, 2023 5:00 am

EMS workers (Photo via

By Lisa Schaefer

We live in a world of monthly subscriptions. Whether it’s your two or three favorite movie streaming services, an online TV package or a gaming product, it’s likely that you receive a number of autopay notifications between $6 to $15 every month. And it’s no secret; those rates are climbing at a steady pace. It’s not uncommon to see an extra one or two dollars per month added onto their subscriptions for various reasons. And for most, it’s not enough to cancel a service or even get too irritated about.  

So, hypothetically, let’s say you had a subscription that helps dispatch life-saving personnel like EMTs, firefighters and police officers in an emergency. It also provides trained professionals on the phone that can help you navigate through times of trauma and crisis. Would you pay $2.30 a month for that subscription? It’s hard to imagine saying no to that value.  

Pa.’s 911 call centers need funding renewed before expiring in 2024, officials said Monday

Now, let’s get to the non-hypothetical part; you are already subscribed to this service, in the form of the 911 surcharge that can be found on your monthly phone bill. Right now, the cost is just $1.65 per month, the same price it has been since 2015. But if that surcharge went up by 65 cents per month, it could make a massive difference in your life and the lives of your friends and loved ones.  

Pennsylvania counties provide the first point of contact in a chain of responders during an emergency. The trained staff within the county 911 centers are the catalysts to making sure emergency responders get to their destination as quickly as possible. Telecommunicators also stay on the line with the caller to provide a calming presence and can even give important directions, such as how to do CPR or even deliver a baby until on-scene help arrives. 

But counties are approaching a breaking point. In addition to the need to recruit and retain trained professionals, 911 technology is constantly evolving, which requires routine upgrades and investments to make sure those in crisis are able to access help as quickly as possible. Needless to say, maintaining a system as complex and critical as our 911 system, one that will keep changing with our technology and communication tools, requires substantial funding. This year alone, the statewide cost of the NG 911 system is $487 million and is estimated to rise to nearly $600 million by 2028. 

The 911 surcharge you pay on your phone bill supports a significant part of this cost. But because that surcharge hasn’t increased in eight years, counties – or more accurately, county property taxpayers – are currently shouldering more than 30% of the cost of the 911 system this year. By 2028, the county share will increase to nearly 50% of the system statewide. If the current monthly rate is not increased, the burden on counties will reach a point where property taxes must be raised, or in the worst case, the 911 system will not function as effectively as it should, delaying response in times of crisis.  

While we acknowledge and appreciate Gov. Shapiro’s proposal to increase the 911 surcharge to $1.97 per month in his first state budget proposal, the 32-cent increase will not be enough to keep counties and our 911 system from spiraling into the same situation a few short years from now.   

So, take a look at your current subscriptions, of any type. It’s safe to assume that 911 is at the top of the list when it comes to importance and value. If we, as consumers, are willing to accept a $2 to $3 increase on a movie streaming platform, why would we jeopardize our 911 system for a modest increase of 65 cents, or an additional $7.80 a year? The value of peace of mind for $27.60 a year is comparable to one month of entertainment or lifestyle subscriptions.    

Every subscription in our society tends to rise in price throughout time, yet the surcharge we pay for a service that could potentially save our lives hasn’t seen an increase in eight years and is currently struggling to stay afloat. It’s time for the legislature and Gov. Shapiro to subscribe to the highest possible quality of public safety response for Pennsylvania’s citizens. 

Lisa Schaefer is the Executive Director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing all 67 counties in Pennsylvania.


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