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Budget Crunch in Bethlehem, PA Leads City Officials to Look for 911 Call Center Alternatives


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January 07, 2013

Budget Crunch in Bethlehem, PA Leads City Officials to Look for 911 Call Center Alternatives

By Brittany Walters-Bearden, TMCnet Contributor

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, local officials are starting to worry that their 911 call center may be costing them more than it is worth. The call center has been placing an increasing burden on taxpayers, leading officials to seek alternative solutions.

According to Lynn Olanoff of The Express-Times, the cost to run the center rose from $350,000 in 2012 to $750,000 in 2013. It has been proposed that the 911 call center will be absorbed by the Northampton County Call Center by 2014.

Although Mayor John Callahan and a number of other city officials see it as a potential way to ease the burden on both the city and the taxpayers, others aren’t as enthusiastic about the idea. The Bethlehem Police Department maintains that a localized, city-only call center allows for faster response times. They also note that the dispatchers at the call center are responsible for more than just 911 calls: they’re also responsible for monitoring the department’s surveillance cameras.

Another potential setback for proponents of the switch lies in the division of counties; Bethlehem falls in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties, leaving some questioning whether or not Northampton County would be willing to take on the 911 calls for those Bethlehem residents who live in their neighboring county.

According to Bo Koltnow of WFMZ, the center handles 50,000 emergency calls each year.  As officials begin to explore this alternative, they’ll need to evaluate whether or not it is realistic for Northampton County to handle an additional 50,000 emergency calls each year, and evaluate how efficient they will be at dispatching the calls.

Municipal budgets across the country are facing the familiar budget crunches that come with a new year, and call centers are facing more calls than ever, thanks to mistaken “butt dials” and other mobile mistakes. 

The Daily reported that out of every 100 calls made to 911, 40 of them are accidental. It’ll be important for the Northampton Call Center to take into account more than just the legitimate 911 calls that they will be taking on, but also the accidental ones.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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