March 22 02:24 AM

Digital 911 proposal on ballot

County commission okays language for Nov. 3 vote on $16.1 million plan

August 26, 2009
LAPEER COUNTY — County commissioners have approved ballot language for a Nov. 3, 2009 special election to fund equipment purchases for a new digital E-911 dispatch system.

If approved, Lapeer County taxpayers will pay 0.75 mills for up to 10 years, totaling $16.1 million over the terms of the millage, which runs through 2018. The proposed millage translates to 75 cents for each $1,000 of taxable value.

Central Dispatch Director Vic Martin says the millage would raise about $2.35 million during the first year (2009-2010), providing it is approved and collected in the first year of the levy.

Martin says it is imperative that the county move from its antiquated analog system to digital technology.

"There is a real urgency to this," says Martin. "If our system goes down, there is no backup. Our current system is obsolete and they don't make replacement parts anymore. We do get used parts when we can find them."

Lapeer County is among the few left in the state that still use an analog system for E-911.
Martin says it is inevitable that the existing system will break down at some point. The fact that no one knows when that will happen hastens the level of urgency for the county.

Martin says the county missed out on the first round of federal stimulus money that might have helped pay for the system.

"We've gotten some criticism for that," he says. "We put in for it, but we didn't have all the information we needed at that time."

Citing the economic downturn, Martin realizes voters have little appetite for spending more money on taxes. He thinks that an education campaign will eventually lead to greater awareness and widespread support for the proposal.

"Our timing is not good," admits Martin, "but it wouldn't be good if our emergency phones and radios go down.

"I think once people understand the importance and urgency of getting this done, they will support it. But we need to inform our residents."

He said supporters of the digital system are working to formulate a strategy for educating the public; which will include public forums and the dissemination of information by county police, fire and EMS workers.

In the interim, Martin is espousing the ballot proposal and digital E-911 system to everyone who will listen.

"This is the cheapest and most reliable option over the long haul," Martin says. "There are also added benefits down the road."

He says those benefits include: being eligible for federally-funded Homeland Security Grants from the State of Michigan; state-funded upgrades; compatibility with neighboring counties (all of which are jumping on the digital bandwagon), and "interoperability," a buzzword Martin says may be the key to making the transition.

"Interoperability will allow us to communicate with all departments," he says. "It's required to receive federal grant money. Everyone in the state is moving to the system."

In 1996, Lapeer County was one of the last counties in Michigan to implement an E-911 emergency communication system.

"At that time, the state's MPSCS digital system was just coming online," Martin recalls, "but it wouldn't have been available to us for another two or three years. We couldn't wait all that time and be without any E-911 system."

Martin says he feels the same urgency is required now to ensure the public safety countywide.

Voters will be asked to approve the plan at the polls on November 3.

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