BLOOMSBURG -- By early next year, Columbia and Montour Counties will share a 911 center.
They are the first two counties in Pennsylvania to make such a move, but they may not be the last.
Each county typically has its own 911 center, but soon calls from Montour County will be handled by dispatchers in Columbia County.
Commissioners from Columbia and Montour Counties sat side by side Thursday as they announced something that's been in the works for more than a year.
They received nearly $1 million in state grant money to combine the Columbia County 911 center in Bloomsburg with the Montour County 911 center near Danville.
"This isn't one county just providing service to another. This is two counties coming together. Both counties will have equal say on how the center is run," said Commissioner Chris Young, (R) Columbia County.
The merger should save money for each county. State regulations would have required Columbia County to spend about $800,000 to upgrade its 911 center. Montour County was looking at a cost of $2 million.
"We need to think differently. Rather than being standalone, can we work with somebody else to provide a better solution than spending $2 million?" said Commissioner Ken Holdren, (R) Montour County.
The new merged 911 center will be at the current Columbia County 911 center in Bloomsburg.
The Montour County 911 center will remain home to the county's EMA center and district magistrate office.
The 911 center in Columbia County is larger and will be renamed East Central Regional Consolidated/Shared Services Emergency Network.
Fred Hunsinger is the director of public safety in Columbia County. He says all employees from both centers were offered jobs in the new combined center. He also says residents in Columbia and Montour Counties won't see a change in service.
"We have accommodations for five call takers," Hunsinger said. "Both Columbia and Montour County residents will get the same--in fact, our goal is to get a higher level of efficiency and better service to both counties out of the merger."
"Between Columbia and Montour Counties, it will save money in the end. I think a lot of the police departments and the EMT's all work together anyway," said Debbie Sokol of Orange Township.
"If it's going to save money and it's going to get the upgrades, I don't see how it could be bad," said David Ferrebee of Danville.
Not everyone is as optimistic. Jim Deroba of Lime Ridge doesn't care as long as it works.
"Luzerne County 911 is in the paper every three to six months for not working. We're just as rural. If we cut costs, does that mean the function is going to go away?" he asked.
Matt Kurtz is the assistant chief for the Danville Ambulance Service.
"Between our EMS agency and the agencies in Columbia County, we mutual aid back and forth frequently. This would allow better communication during those times," Kurtz said. "The better equipment will help the dispatchers get the emergency services where they're needed faster and safer."
The new combined 911 center is scheduled to open within the next six to eight months. After it opens, commissioners in Columbia and Montour Counties will look at possibly merging their jails.
Snyder and Union Counties are currently talking about merging their centers as well.