Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why Bethlehem's 911 Should Merge With Northampton County

Northampton County Council member John Cusick really took it on the chin a few weeks ago when he proposed a feasibility study to determine whether the County should assume 911 operational responsibilities in Bethlehem, Walnutport and North Catasauqua. Bethlehem has a stand alone system, while North Catty and Walnutport are administered in Lehigh County.

"My only question is Why? Really, Why are we getting involved in expanding government or making something bigger, taking on more responsibility?" demanded Peg Ferraro, who was feeling pretty frisky.

Cusick explained only two cities in the Commonwealth have their own 911s. He also noted that 911 has changed from wired to wireless. And he hinted at the real reason.

"I think some of the City's troubles, recently, have been documented. Maybe we should reach out to them."

Here's what's going on.

Bethlehem gets $1 per land line from phone companies for administration of its 911 services. It gets another $1 for each cell phone, but that money is supposed to go to the state, which then distributes grants, based on need. An independent audit revealed that Bethlehem just keeps the money from wireless accounts, and uses it to pay operating expenses. It owes the state at least $2,598.461.

In addition to commingling, Callahan's crew has exceeded the seventy per cent threshold it can use from the 911 fund for personnel costs, by $381,000 per year, for the last three years straight. The City is going to have to reimburse that fund.

And of course, "unallowable costs" were diverted from the 911 fund, to the tune of $288,000. Even God has no idea where that money went. The City has to pay that money back, too.

And it will. One of these days.

Bethlehem officials, of course, would love to continue playing games with 911 money. So Ann McHale, who represents Bethlehem, was dispatched to act all indignant.

"They're certainly not interested at this point," she huffed. "No one's talked to them about this. Not only that, they just spent a lot of money updating all of their equipment." She also indicated that Bethlehem will be funding 911 next year with $3.5 million. "I think you're treading in an area that we don't belong," she ruled.

And Cusick was left holding the bag on a Lamont McClure motion to table. Only Dietrich sided with Cusick, and that was probably only because he saw something in it for his EMT pals.

Dietrich mentioned that he rides in Bethlehem Township ambulances (and wanted $50,000 for them, too) and must respond to some Bethlehem calls, but there is a delay because the radios are different.

Cusick is absolutely right. Bethlehem is playing too many games with 911 money, and it's only a matter of time before there are bad consequences. As proof, you need look only to McHale's statement, which is complete garbage.

It's certainly true that Bethlehem borrowed $6 million just a few months ago, and part of that money was supposed to pay for a $1.8 million upgrade to its 911 center. But amazingly, it spent all the money for operating expenses. Business Manager Dennis Reichard swore up and down it would be used for those purposes at a Finance Committee hearing, but his fingers must have been crossed.

So contrary to McHale's declaration, the City has no upgraded 911. In fact, City officials now want to borrow not $6, but $20 million. But this time, they're really, really, really, really serious.

If past practice is any indication, Bethlehem can't be trusted to upgrade 911. Or administer the fund honestly. And it is going to lose money, as it has this year.

Do Bethlehem citizens want a system in which money for upgrades is diverted? In which Bethlehem can't talk to other municipalities for mutual aid because of different radios? That's what you have. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

How does Callahan get away with this smoke and mirrows act year after year? Where are the media? Doesn't anyone aske questions?

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem buy what they want, beg what they need

Anonymous said...

jc's teflon has lost it's luster.

it is past time for council and the controller to go to the locker room and trade their rubber stamps in for a set of balls

these, if not illegal , but certainly immoral smoke and mirror financial transactions must be stopped immediately.

the business administrator nor the mayor can be trusted to do this

wake up council, wake up media, wake up citizens.

the proverbial stuff has already hit the fan...................... it's time to clean it up and then clean city hall of the ones who have shoveled this crap

Anonymous said...

worth considering department: Bethlehem is in both counties. This might be the one time where it makes sense for the city to handle 911 operations. how will northampton county manage the part of the city in lehigh county?

if anything, the scenario points to the need to regionalize lehigh and northampton county operations.

Bernie O'Hare said...

McHale made that point, but John Conklin responded that NC could easily handle all of Bethlehem, just as LC can easily handle N Catty.

The real question here should be what is best for people who might experience a 911 emergency? If it is best for Bethlehem to continue, that's what should happen. But if a study reveals NC would do a better job and w/ better equipment that ot actually buys, that's what should happen.

Anonymous said...

And this ahole wanted to represent us in washington.

Anonymous said...

Where's Geeting? We need someone to defend Callahan against this vicious albeit attack. Liberal Progressive orthodoxy states that pain in the ass things such as "facts" must never be allowed into the discussion.