911 Surcharge on May 2 Ballot

911 station good
The 911 Portage Dispatch Center in operation.

By Sue Moore

It seems like the stars were aligned just right to get a 911 surcharge question on the May 2 county-wide ballot. If voters approve, it will mean a single consolidated emergency dispatch center to replace the existing five, according to Brady Township Supervisor Randy Smith. Smith has served on the planning committee as a representative from the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority.

Operating five centers has sometimes led to overlapping with potential for confusion, said Jeff Troyer, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Central Dispatch Authority. Troy believes there will be cost savings to consolidation. That and having a more efficient and effective system for the life-or-death 911 calls are the main goals in bringing the question to the voters of Kalamazoo County.

Elected officials in the various jurisdictions have tried for nearly 30 years to get approval of 911 dispatch consolidation to the voters, with little success. Due to a recent need to significantly upgrade dispatch center equipment, 2017 seemed like the best opportunity to try for approval.

The proposal would add a monthly surcharge of $2.30 on each phone line, whether cell phone or land line. For customers use more than 10 land lines, the first 10 would be charged the $2.30 but the next 10 lines would be one $2.30 fee. This will be set each year by the County Board of Commissioners. But Troyer insists that this amount would be sufficient to carry the authority for the foreseeable future. Currently each phone line is charged 42 cents in support of the dispatch centers in Portage, Kalamazoo city, Kalamazoo Township, Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo County.

If the surcharge is approved, it will take until July 1 to implement. The cost savings of a consolidated dispatch center would be approximately $280,000 a year, Troyer projects. The five units of government collectively spent $5.564 million on 911 service in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available. If the central dispatch is not authorized on the May ballot, it is projected that the operating cost for all five units of government will climb to $6.08 million.

The authority was formed in the fall of 2014 to explore the potential for a consolidated dispatch center, with all units of government agreeing to support the increased surcharge when it came to a vote of each board in 2016.

“We have a good system today but not great,” Troyer said, “so people shouldn’t be unduly concerned when they call 911 in an emergency. About 70 percent of the calls are initiated from the major transportation hubs of I-94 or U.S. 131 and across the center of the county, including downtown Kalamazoo.”

There is potential for these calls to be transferred from one call center to another due to the way wireless calls are routed and due to mutual aid agreements for fire and EMS systems. Each time a call transfer takes place, anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds ticks off the clock. The information needs to be re-transmitted to the other call center that is asking for help. “You increase the rate of error for each call transfer,” Troyer said. “If there is one point of entry to the entire system, that builds a safer environment. Kalamazoo has experienced two of these types of calamities in 2016 with the Uber driver moving between different jurisdictions and the bicyclists who were killed and injured in Cooper Township.”

Also on the May 2 ballot is a renewal request for Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency’s regional enhancement renewal millage of $1.50 per $1,000 taxable valuation for the nine school systems. This is allocated to the area’s school districts. Voters have approved it each of the three times it has been placed on the ballot.

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