Grand Traverse County delays 911 hike proposal
July 23, 2002
It will cost county more than $50,000 to conduct special election
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — With the Nov. 5 election ballot already filling up with local tax proposals, officials in Grand Traverse County have decided to wait until spring to ask voters to increase 911 surcharges up to 16 percent to pay for a new emergency services radio system.
The county is targeting May 6 for a special county election on increasing the surcharge on local telephone bills to pay for an estimated $8 million upgrade to the county’s police/fire radio system and to operate the county’s central dispatch center.
The county already collects a 4 percent 911 operational surcharge on local phone bills – about 80 cents a month – which is the maximum that a county can collect without voter approval. Another 16 percent would add about $3.20 to monthly phone bills, totaling up to $4 per month that would go to the county from local phone bills. There are also 911 fees collected through the state on cellular and digital telephone accounts and eventually turned over to the county. Those would not be affected by the 911 fees collected on wired phone lines.
Each 4 percent increase in the surcharge raises about $500,000 a year, officials said.
Originally, officials considered putting the question on the November ballot. They decided that a separate election would be a better option because of a county bus millage sought by the Bay Area Transportation Authority in November, plus some potential township tax proposals. It will cost the county more than $50,000 to conduct the special election.
Some surcharge advocates also said they needed more time to take their case to the voters. Several Michigan counties have waged successful 911 fee campaigns in recent years but needed at least five months to organize their public education efforts, said Jamel Anderson, Central dispatch director.
“We need to emphasize that 911 is a benefit to everyone, and we want to keep our response times short,” Anderson said. “We have some catching up to do.”
The county is looking at an $8 million overhaul next year of its 13-year-old VHF highband radio system. Officials have decided against converting for now to the 800 MHz radio system used by the state police and other state agencies because local fire departments can’t use it for mobile paging of part-time firefighters.
But the radio system upgrade will enable the county to add several features, including mobile laptop data terminals for deputies to provide nearly instantaneous information on things like vehicle registrations or criminal backgrounds on suspects. The new equipment also allows the dispatch center to track emergency vehicles at all times along with an enhanced mapping system to give emergency personnel betters specifics on the locations of 911 calls.
Besides the radio upgrade, the county wants to begin paying all dispatch center operational costs with 911 fees. The department has an annual budget of about $1.25 million, which includes a $700,000 appropriation from the county’s general fund. Paying for the entire dispatch operation with 911 monies would free up general fund dollars for other departments or services, officials said.
Local officials are confident the proposed fee increase, although significant, will gain the public’s support if the proposal is fully laid out for voters – and if it’s not competing with other local tax increases at the same time.
“I think we’re going to get one shot (at passing the millage),” said state police Lt. Mark Stewart, chairman of the county’s Central Dispatch Board. “We need to make sure we do it right.”
(Copyright © 2002 The Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle. All rights reserved. Republished with permission.)