To The Editor:
In November 2003 Newaygo county voters overwhelmingly approved a 911 phone surcharge of $3.00 monthly. During a session in 2008, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) decided to cut surcharges across the state of Michigan, reducing Newaygo County’s to $1.56 monthly. The rationale was that cell phones were becoming more popular, and with adding more devices to the system, the surcharge would generate the same revenue as previous. This was not the case, and Newaygo County Central Dispatch sustained a cut of over 40% in their annual revenue from 2008-2017. A class action lawsuit case was filed by 23 counties in Michigan in an attempt to bring surcharges back to the previous amounts approved by voters.
This lawsuit lasted from 2008-2013 when the MPSC agreed to bring Newaygo County’s surcharge back to $1.95 monthly. Although this was better than $1.56, it was still 35% less than approved by voters in 2003. Restoring the voter approved 2003 level of $3.00 monthly will fund the replacement of the outdated radio consoles and make it possible to update and maintain critical public safety dispatching equipment. At this time Central Dispatch does not have any funding available to replace these vital technology pieces.
Rumors have spread, which I would like to address:
1. This surcharge is a different way to get money for the Sheriff’s Office.
This is untrue. They are two different departments in the county which have separate budgets. The Sheriff’s department uses services from Central Dispatch as does all of the city Police Departments, Michigan State Police, Fire Departments, Ambulance service, First Responders, DNR and sometimes the Road Commission, Forestry Service and others. This telephone surcharge exclusively funds Central Dispatch and it cannot be used for any outside purposes per state law.
2. This is a double dip with the state having passed some new legislation last year.
Again, this is untrue. Senate Bill 400 provided funding to be used for 911 infrastructure at the state level to create a fiber network build out, supporting Next Generation 911 technology with some enhanced 911 services. There was about $4,150.00 that passed through to Newaygo County. If that stays the same in the future, we could replace our consoles in about a hundred and ninety years, if their price tag didn’t rise from its current figure of about $850,000.00.
3. This money will probably be wasted on employee salary.
Some of that $3.00 will certainly be spent on employee salary, just as it is now. That salary is set contractually with the county and, just like all of the county employees, has not seen more than a three percent cost of living adjustment for many years.
I hope that this lays to rest a few concerns and some misinformation that is out there. I know how important to me it is to have local people who are personally familiar with the emergency services in the county as well as the communities they live in, answering the emergency calls that come in.
I will provide a recent example of this. August 28, 2018 when storms with 70 MPH winds came through Newaygo County, our Central Dispatch answered 320 call for service between 7PM-10PM and 600 total during the night. Neighboring counties had that same storm come through. I am so glad that we had our own Newaygo County people on hand that night handling those calls for service which included the city DPW’s, Emergency Service personnel and other volunteers.
From January 1 – December 31, 2017 our dispatchers took 106,416 calls for service. This includes:
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