Sheriff says tax will help radio unit
Aug. 21, 2002
Rather than have the county impose a tax on the residents, Sheriff Mark Hackel said he would rather let the voters decide on the issue in November
Macomb County (Mich.) voters will decide if they will take on a temporary tax on each telephone in their homes. The tax would be $1.50 a month per phone line.
The money raised will go towards updating the county’s police radio systems and it will not just affect the Macomb County Sheriff Department, said Hackel.
The sheriff explained the current radio system and its shortfalls when discussing the need for funding.
“The county’s communication system is 25-30 years old and is a 400-megahertz system,” said Hackel.
He said one of the draw backs of the system is that each community’s police and fire department have their own frequency and that makes it very difficult for the county to coordinate in times of emergencies.
Hackel said a proposed 800-megahertz system will allow “real-time” communication where officers can talk to each other directly, as opposed to what he says is the more cumbersome existing system.
Currently, if the Macomb County Sheriff Department needed to contact the Chesterfield Police Department, for example, they would have to call their dispatch, who could contact the officer the sheriff wanted, who would then call the Macomb County dispatchers, who would then make contact with the sheriff.
Hackel said this wastes a lot of time in crucial situations. He made the scenario that if a Macomb County Sheriff Department deputy was chasing a car heading towards Shelby Township, rather than just getting ahold of a Shelby officer directly, he would have to go through all the loops of using dispatch.
“Plus the system is failing,” said Hackel.
Additionally, there is a problem in the north end of the county where, because of the outdated equipment, deputies have a hard time communicating to each other.
Hackel said as many as 60 percent of all calls are made difficult by the existing system. Even a building’s wall density can affect the current police communication system, he said.
Hackel said he had consultants go out for bids from different companies to find new county-wide communication that not only his department can use, but all Macomb County community police and fire departments.
“Everyone in the public safety sector, police, fire and EMS, agree that this is a necessity,” said Hackel.
Hackel said Warren has the 800-megahertz system, but took a different approach to paying for the equipment. They got the money through a ten-year bond approved eight years ago.
“It cost them millions of dollars that is at its life expectancy and in need of updating and a lot of repairs,” said Hackel.
Hackel said although he has not found a specific vendor, it looks like it may cost around $35 million, but he will try to find a vendor who will come in under that.
He said 63 out of 83 counties use the 800-megahertz system.
On Aug. 15, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners approved placing the item on the November ballot.
“After four years, we will not collect any money. But we need the voters to vote for it first. It is vital,” said Hackel.
Hackel said having the voters approve the proposal is vital because the FCC will not give the sheriff department the equipment first unless they know for sure the police department has a means of paying for it.
“There are also going to be some federal dollars available through Homeland Security. We understand there are $40 million ear-marked for the state of Michigan for communication systems,” said Hackel.
The sheriff said once the applications for the federal money is available, he intends to apply for grants to drive down the cost of the tax if it is approved by voters.
“One concern with the funds is they want to see a multi-agency plan first before giving you the money. They want to see that we also have secured funding to follow through with the program if they give us funds. We will have everything we need in order, prior to applying for a federal grant if the item is approved,” he remarked.
Hackel said he is all for finding ways to drive down the costs that could terminate the surcharge tax early. The sheriff said this is not a reaction to Sept. 11 and the study for this was done far prior to the terror attacks, but he said Sept. 11 did bring a heightened state of awareness of the need for better communication.
“If there is a catastrophe, we have no means of communicating immediately with one another or other agencies,” said Hackel.
If the state-of-the-art system cannot be bought, the alternative is that his department, as well as other communities, will have to pay twice to replace their systems when they become outdated, Hackel explained.
“They will have to replace their county-wide system and their local police and fire department system,” said Hackel.
(Copyright 2002 Voice Communnications. All rights reserved. Republished with permission.)