July 23 • 05:21 AM

E-911 system is up for vote

Few attend Almont informational meeting, upgrade issue appears on ballot November 3

October 28, 2009
LAPEER COUNTY — County residents will go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 3, to decide the fate of a $16.1 million ballot proposal to fund equipment purchases for a new digital E-911 system.

Central Dispatch Director Vic Martin says he and other supporters of the plan have done their best to inform the public on the benefits of implementing a digital system for the county. Now it's up to the voters.

"We've been getting the information out through newspapers and public meetings," Martin says. "Our emergency personnel (police, fire and EMS) have been out pounding on doors, trying to get the word out.

"There is a real urgency about this," he continues. "The (analog) system we are presently using is obsolete, and they don't make parts for it anymore. If the current system breaks down, there is no backup."

Martin says the county has purchased some used analog parts from counties that switched to digital technology. But there are no guarantees how long those parts will last; or which parts will eventually break down.

Driving home his point that the matter is urgent, Martin notes that that if the proposal fails on Nov. 3, it cannot be placed on the ballot again for another year; leaving residents potentially vulnerable.

Should the proposal pass on Tuesday, taxpayers will pay 0.75 mills for a period of up to 10 years; which translates to a cost of 75 cents for each $1,000 of taxable value. Martin says the millage would raise about $2.35 million during the first year of the levy.

Martin says a new system could be up and running within 18 months. He adds that implementation of the system may ultimately cost less than the $13.1 million being sought.

"That ($13.1 million) is the worst case scenario," says Martin. "The county is hopeful that once the system is up and running, we'll be eligible for grant funding, which can immediately be used and subsequently roll back the millage."

Martin says the millage would fund seven towers; including one between Almont and Dryden, where communication problems persist.

Dryden Twp. Fire Chief Ray Evans says that when radio reception is poor in southern parts of the county, emergency personnel must resort to using cell phones or walkie-talkies.

"Communication is spotty south of Dryden Road," says Evans. "A new tower would be helpful.

"We need a (digital) system because this one is dying on us — and you can't get parts," he says. "A new system should last us anywhere from 15-20 years."

Almont Twp. Fire Chief Paul Wayco agrees with Evans' assessment.

"The basic thing is that our system is falling apart," says Wayco. "We had an ordeal last Christmas, when we had a radio system failure and we had to call around to get parts.

"I feel this is something that is really needed," he says. "It allows us to communicate with our neighbors in other communities. Everybody in the state is either on it (digital) or going to be."

Lapeer E-911 facts

•Lapeer County Central Dispatch processed more than 112,000 calls for emergency assistance last year; including police, fire and EMS.

•The county's existing radio and paging system has been in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year since its inception 13 years ago.

•There are 800 radios on the current system; they include nine police agencies, 15 fire departments, four EMS services, six medical first responder teams, Lapeer County Emergency Management, Lapeer County Road Commission and the Greater Lapeer Transportation Authority.

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