ST. CLAIR COUNTY — From now on, residents might think twice about calling 911 to report a plume of smoke or suspicious subject lurking around the neighborhood.
The county board of commissioners recently approved a plan to start charging municipalities just over $9 for every non-emergency call that comes in to Central Dispatch. The move comes as the cash-strapped county looks to meet the dispatch center's operating budget of almost $1.9 million.
District One County Commissioner Steve Simasko was one of two board members to cast their votes against it, arguing that Central Dispatch services are a primary government service that should be covered by taxes already paid.
Outcry over a $9 fee for non-emergency calls to Central Dispatch could see the plan revisited by St. Clair County officials next month.
"We've been trying to educate people to use 911 and all of this flies in the face of that," Simasko, who represents the Capac and Yale area, said.
He said a non-emergency call can quickly turn into an emergency—such as a stranded motorist who, it turns out, has a serious medical condition. The Central Dispatch Authority Board has said they feel the new fees will put the public at risk and open the county up to liabilities.
"It was not well thought-out," Simasko said of the plan.
"And this is not the time to be passing on more costs to residents."
Administrator Shaun Groden said currently about 60 percent of all calls coming into the dispatch center are non-emergency. Every call that comes in through 911 or the general dispatch phone line are taped and codified as either emergency or non-emergency using a nationally-recognized protocol.
The fees will start to be billed once municipalities enter their next fiscal year. For some, that's January 1. Simasko said he hopes the matter will be readdressed between now and then. By Roberts Rules of Order, a commissioner who voted in favor of the measure will have to bring it back to the table for a vote.
On Tuesday, Groden acknowledged that due to the concerned feedback from communities, the issue will most likely be revisited in November.
Regardless, Groden said there needs to be a program "that charges the local units their prorata share of expenses."
If the new program sticks, muncipalities like the village of Capac will have some time to analyze the situation.Their new fiscal year doesn't start until July.
Manager Chris Crary said he's still in the dark as to specifics about the new charges. The village already gets bills for emergency police calls.
"This gives us some time to figure out what the plan is and find room in our budget to pay for it," he said.