EDITORIAL: Dead air from Congress on 911 mess

The York Dispatch

York County just can’t catch a break with its 911 system.

In this file photo, York County Department of Emergency Services supervisor Amy Smith gives a demonstration of the 911 Center's Smart911 system. (Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Not five years after a $44 million radio system overhaul was completed in 2008 — a project plagued by glitches and delays — the county and other municipalities across the country were told they would have to abandon their bandwidth.

A federal commission formed after Sept. 11, 2001, found emergency radio communications were ineffective during the terrorist attacks, so Congress mandated agencies using “T-Band” turn over that bandwidth to the Federal Communications Commission and join a different one allocated to public safety.

For York County taxpayers, that meant another $27 million 911 project while they’re still paying off the last one.

And that brings up the latest headache: Because the previous 911 upgrade has been rendered obsolete, the $21 million remaining on the bond that financed it is now considered "stranded debt."

York County could have to pay $21M debt in 2016

In a nutshell, that means the balance is due next year, rather than in 2033.

The county is petitioning the courts for a 10-year extension on the bond, but it’s in uncharted territory and there’s no telling how a judge will rule.

Even in the best case scenario, the county is looking at $3.8 million yearly payments beginning in 2017 — compared the $840,000 it is earmarking for the bond next year.

As we’ve noted before, none of this is the fault of anyone at the county level.

If blame belongs anywhere, it’s at the dragging feet of our members of Congress.

The federal government has said it plans to auction off the T-Band abandoned municipalities and put the money into a fund to be distributed to those who had to vacate their frequencies.

But no one knows how much might be distributed to agencies like York County 911 and if it will even come close to easing the pain being felt here at home.

In fact, according to county administrator Mark Derr, there hasn't been any movement at the federal level to reimburse municipalities.

Enough with the dead air.

We want to hear from Congressman Scott Perry and Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey:

What are you doing help your constituents through this mess?