The Allegheny County Controller is not happy with the process to relocate 911 services from the City of Pittsburgh to Pittsburgh International Airport. The move will come about through a twenty year lease for a building owned by the County’s Airport Authority, a building about 20,000 square feet bigger than the current location. The Controller noted that due to the investment in the building the center is presently in there should have been a more transparent bidding process, an assessment the County manager did not agree with.
In a press release the Controller noted “Much like the recent move of the County Police to the former Parkway Center Mall property, moving the Call Center to the Airport is likely to increase rental costs to the taxpayers, in this case for a facility that was built at public expense to begin with. This move also represents a relocation of hundreds of existing employees from a centrally located facility to the outer fringes of the County. I remain very concerned with the trend of disinvestment in the urban core in favor of more remote locations. The complications of commuting costs and arrangements for many of these employees promise to be widespread”. According to the County’s 2017 operating budget 911 call center operations are one of five divisions in the Department of Emergency Services and there are 230 “telecommunications officers” who staff the division 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are call takers and dispatchers in the division and we wrote about 911 call volume a few years ago when the state was debating raising the fee on telephone bills that funds 911 services.
But back to the Controller’s take on relocation and its effect on “disinvestment in the urban core”–recall that the Controller’s office put together an analysis of tax exempt property in the County and the resulting loss of tax dollars. By that metric, if the County moves an exempt property out of the City–where the percentage of exempt property is close to 40%–with about 23% exempt of total value? And if the other holder of lots of exempt property–the City’s Urban Redevelopment Authority–can turn the old 911 center over to an entity that will pay property taxes, wouldn’t that be beneficial to the City? There could be a negative effect on getting people to work if public transportation is the primary mode now, but if they are commuting by car there might not be a big difference.