2017-03-16 / Front Page

County may tap phones

Surcharge would help with budget
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

A nearly $2.5 million loan the county took out to pay for a major upgrade of emergency communications equipment could be paid off in part by a new telephone surcharge.

The County Board is giving serious consideration to imposing the tax as early as next month on every land line and cell phone registered in the county.

At its regular monthly executive meeting this week, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners heard from Emergency Management director Matt Ansorge, County Treasurer John Gallagher, and County Administrator Chet Janik on the topic.

The three officials outlined how quickly county funds will be depleted over the next 10 years to pay for the communications upgrade as well as several other major projects the county has undertaken over the past year.

The new phone tax could produce revenues of $95,000 annually — or more, if voters approve a higher rate.

State law allows county boards to impose a surcharge of up to 42-cents per phone line to help cover the cost of 9-1-1 emergency operations on its own authority without a vote of the people. Any amount over 42 cents per phone line, up to $3 per phone line, would require a referendum.

Janik said the County Board will be presented with more information about phone surcharges next month and could decide at its April 18 meeting whether to impose a surcharge of up to 42-cents per phone line. He said the board might also consider authorizing a ballot initiative in 2018 during which voters could decide whether to increase the surcharge above 42-cents per line.

The communications upgrade, approved last year, includes the installation of new consoles and other equipment in the county’s 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch Center as well as the acquisition of hundreds of brand-new digital radios and other communications devices being issued to each of the county’s fire and rescue departments.

Treasurer Gallagher explained that much of the cost of the emergency communications upgrade is being covered by a drawdown of the county’s Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund (DTRF), which has been tapped for several other “big ticket” projects as well. Gallagher said the DTRF is not growing at a sufficient rate to be sustainable if funding for all the special projects comes from the DTRF over the next 10 years.

Currently, the county is wrapping up a nearly $1 million project to replace a faulty heating, ventilating and air conditioning system serving the county Law Enforcement Center (LEC) adjacent to the county Government Center. The County Board learned this week that it could cost an additional $200,000 to $350,000 to re-roof the LEC after the current mechanical project is completed.

Janik said the County Board will be presented a specific proposal on the new roofing project at its regular monthly meeting next week.

In addition to several other capital projects, the county hopes to pay down an “unfunded liability” to cover a retirement program for county employees.

Although Leelanau County is in much better shape financially than most other counties in the state, financial projections indicate that more revenues will be needed to sustain the additional expenditures over time without dipping into the county’s fund balance.

According to Janik, Leelanau County imposes the lowest millage rate of any county in Michigan, 3.53 mills, and is in the top 20 percent of counties in the state in meeting its retirement fund obligations.

He said a 42-cent per phone line surcharge would raise about $95,000 per year to help pay for the 9-1-1 upgrade. He said that for every penny added to the surcharge, some $2,200 to $2,400 in revenue could be added to county coffers.

Ansorge noted that Leelanau County is one of only 16 of Michigan’s 83 counties that does not impose a 9-1-1 surcharge on local phone lines. Special millages to support 9-1-1 operations have been imposed in 22 counties.

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Amazing to me that a building

Amazing to me that a building that was built in 2008 has had to go through so many repairs and upgrades. A faulty heating, ventilating and air conditioning system? And then this requires a new roof at the cost of somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars? I thought this building was state of the art? Who authorized the current system that has only lasted 8 years? Seems like things were not planned very well, and that infrastructure basics may have been ignored. The building should have been built to not only serve the present needs, but also its future needs.