York County looks to recover 911 surcharge fees


York County officials are hoping to see a multi-million dollar windfall in fees they believe the county is owed.

Commissioners at their weekly meeting on Wednesday approved separate deals to hire a Philadelphia-based law firm and a Pottstown business to collect 911 surcharge fees that were never billed to phone users or collected by phone companies.

The monthly fees are charged to all phone users and are used to help fund 911 center operations.

Timothy Carson, a partner with the law firm of Dilworth Paxon, estimated the county could be owed as much as $5 million a year back to 2009, which is as far back as the statute of limitations allows them to file litigation.

Any litigation won't be against individuals not charged the fee, but rather against phone companies, David Eckhart, managing director of Phone Recovery Services of Pottstown, told commissioners.

The county won't pay for the services, but the law firm and Phone Recovery Services would keep as much as 40 percent of the recovered funds.

Fee increase: Though it may be years before the county recoups the fees, it will soon start receiving more funding as part of a statewide increase in the 911 surcharge fee.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat from Mount Wolf, signed into law a measure that increases the fee to $1.65 per line.

Proponents of the bill — aptly numbered House Bill 911 — that became law said the increase was needed in part because of the disparity in fees charged to landline users and cellphone users.

Cellphone users and those with voice-over-Internet protocol calling services in the state paid a $1 surcharge, while landline users in York County pay $1.25 per month. The surcharge for landlines varied from county to county.

Revenue lost: As the number of landlines continues to decrease, so does revenue from the fees.

For example, in 2002 York County used $318,688 from its general fund to cover costs to run its 911 center, but in 2015, the county expects that figure will balloon to $6.3 million.

Eric Bistline, executive director of the county's Department of Emergency Services, said though the increase is state law, commissioners had to formally approve a resolution, which they did on Wednesday, to accept the fee.

It's not clear how much more money the county will receive as part of the fee increase.

"We do not have a good estimate on the revenue from the fees. We are developing those estimates now as part of the budget process," Carl Lindquist, county spokesman, wrote in an email.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.