Double Tax for a 911 Call? Berks County Commissioners Lobby General Assembly for Higher Taxes
By Rep. David Maloney Sr. (R-Berks)
I recently received an email in which the Berks County commissioners were quietly lobbying the General Assembly for an increase in the 911 cell phone tax. I say “quietly,” because this email was not sent or even formatted for public review or consumption.

This caused me to investigate the matter more deeply. It was then I discovered that the two worst counties in the state for property tax – Berks and Monroe – also appear to be the only two counties to also tax their municipalities for each 911 call made to the county 911 call and dispatch center. So, on top of the money provided by the 911 call tax, Berks County commissioners think the county still needs more money from those in distress calling for help.

Here is, verbatim, part of their email lobbying for higher taxes on residents:

Berks County calls on the state legislature to increase the current surcharge for the 911 system this year in advance of the sunsetting 911 legislation in January, 2024. We recommend an increase in the monthly telephone surcharge in the coming fiscal year and commit to incremental adjustments in coming years. These small adjustments will shift the overall funding of the 911 system from property taxes to the broader and more equitable base of all telephone user fees until the next funding reauthorization.

Note this email, signed by all three commissioners, doesn’t advise the General Assembly about their back-taxing scheme, and how much more they would gain as opposed to other counties.

And it doesn’t take a detective to discover how much extra money Berks County commissioners gain from this double taxing of residents. At this link you can review quarterly reports of 911 call center disbursements from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA); the most current is for 2023 Q1. Berks received almost $2.2 million last quarter.

If we look at page 3 of the 2023 Berks Budget Book, it shows an anticipated revenue of $12,697,060 into the Emergency 911 Systems special revenue fund. If we take the $2,184,350.62 PEMA disbursement for Q1 over all four quarters, that comes to a total for the year of $8,737,402.48. That leaves $4 million non-PEMA funds, which, without any indication by the county of alternate revenue sources, appear to be the county commissioners double taxing revenue.

Double taxing citizens who are injured or in fear for their lives is not good public policy. And public budgets, and county commissioners’ tax hikes, should be clearer for taxpayers to understand.

Representative David Maloney
130th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner