Our opinion: A good first step

It is not always true that cutting costs for important services that are overseen by government results in a degradation of those services.

A case in point has been the consolidation of 911 call centers serving nine northcentral Pennsylvania counties, including Warren and Forest counties.

According to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the consolidation in the Northern Tier Regional Telecommunications Project has helped those nine counties save $1.4 million to replace aging equipment and $225,000 a year in maintenance costs.

“This is just the beginning of the future,” the paper quoted MCM Consulting Group President Michael McGrady as saying. He is hoping the model may be copied throughout the state.

Currently, the state funds 70 percent of the 69 call centers in Pennsylvania from monthly $1 to $1.50 surcharges on landline and cellphone bills. Counties pony up the rest. However, projections indicate that that soon won’t be enough to cover the tab, since there has been a reduction in landlines as people turn to their wireless devices exclusively.

So far, there appears to be no appreciable bugs in the consolidated service.

Last month, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill that includes cost saving measures like the one involving 911. It was meant to be a stop gap measure to give the legislature time to work out a better long-term funding solution.

It’s a step in the right direction.

A more difficult problem is working through a long-term funding and operational plan for rural fire, rescue and emergency medical services, which mostly rely on volunteers who are increasingly difficult to recruit and retain as pressures mount for their time.