The screw-ups, thefts and high-profile crimes uncovered within Luzerne County government over the years grab the most attention, wrongly casting the whole operation in a bad light.
So, it’s a pleasure to hear about the many county employees who work hard – and work smart.
The county’s 911 center, an operation started 15 years ago, continues to make strides to improve public safety and conserve tax dollars by embracing the latest technology, according to a report by staff writer Jennifer Learn-Andes in Sunday’s edition of The Times Leader. Similarly, how the efforts of the county Assessor’s Office have paid off for the county in recent months – to the tune of $30 million – was outlined in Monday’s edition.
Both stories hint at the daily contributions of forward-thinking managers and nose-to-the-grindstone employees, public servants in today’s challenging environment whose accomplishments often go unrecognized.
The 911 staffers, for instance, last year processed about 450,500 calls – a whopping 70 percent of which originated from cellphones.
At an as-yet undetermined time, those employees will be fully trained to handle new types of emergency communications: text messages and videos sent via cellphone.
Already, the county has invested millions of dollars in upgrades for this so-called “Next Generation 911.” However, by acting in coordination with other nearby counties to share technology, Luzerne County intends to shave costs, said county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans. Participating centers also will be capable of providing call-taking backup if one of the centers goes kaput.
The local roll-out of “Next Generation 911” won’t be rushed, Rosencrans said. First, the center will need to coordinate its text-receiving capabilities with the nation’s four major wireless carriers. Then, he said, there will be an effort to educate area residents about the pitfalls of opting to send a text to the center versus place a phone call.
Typically, a phone call allows dispatchers relying on a Global Positioning System, or GPS, to more precisely pinpoint a location. Plus, a call potentially allows for a faster back-and-forth exchange, allowing the 911 employee to better gauge the situation. Theirs already is a sometimes hectic job, made more confusing in Luzerne County by the multitude of formal and informal place names. One 911 worker lost her job after a fatal fire in May during which, officials said, crews initially were sent to the wrong municipality.
To their credit, county workers years ago had determined they could better share mapping information between departments, putting updated facts at 911 dispatcher’s fingertips. Thanks to those earlier efforts, the county Geographic Information Systems/Mapping Department each day swaps data – pertaining, for instance, to boundary lines and property owners’ names – with the 911 center.
Meanwhile, in the county Assessor’s Office, director Anthony Alu praised what he describes as a thin crew for keeping tabs on new construction, building demolitions and other factors influencing the tax base. The office recently reported the combined value of all taxable property within the county stands at $19.837 billion, an increase of $30 million since November. That uptick should generate $172,250 in new revenue.
Due to staff reductions, said Alu, the office was compelled to scale back its periodic sweeps of neighborhoods to detect missed properties, a technique known as a block check. Instead, it relies heavily on building permits and public tips. “My staff is working hard to pick up new construction,” he said. “It’s a total team effort.”
For much of the public, which has become accustomed to receiving information since 2009’s corruption crackdown about why its county government can’t be trusted or how it did something wrong, it’s important to remember that much can, and does, go right.