2017-04-20 / Front Page

Phone charge gets nod

All cell, land lines
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Your monthly phone bill will be a little higher, starting in July.

That’s when a 42 cent surcharge will begin on phone lines to help pay for a $2.4 million upgrade to Leelanau County’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch service.

The surcharge will apply not only to all land lines serving Leelanau County addresses, but also to cell phones with a Leelanau County billing address.

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday night to authorize the surcharge at 42 cents because that is the maximum amount a county board can charge on its own authority under state law without a vote of the people.

The County Board’s vote to add the surcharge was 6-1, with District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner opposed.

Officials estimate the surcharge will raise about $17,000 in revenue to county finances between July and December, and may raise about $95,000 in 2018.

The surcharge must be renewed annually by the County Board to continue.

County officials said they are imposing the surcharge to begin putting a dent in the $2.4 million the county owes on a major upgrade to the county’s entire emergency communications system. The upgrade was authorized following rec- ommendations from a committee of numerous county officials and representatives of each of the fire and rescue departments in the county.

The county is issuing all-new digital radio equipment and other associated hardware to each of the county’s fire and rescue departments and law enforcement agencies. The upgrade was prompted in part by new federal Homeland Security requirements for interoperability of communications equipment and fast-evolving communications technology.

“We don’t want anybody to think that this 42 cent surcharge is going to come anywhere close to paying for the 9-1-1 upgrade,” said District No. 1 Commissioner Tony Ansorge. “It will only pay for a portion of it.”

District No.2 Commissioner Debra Rushton noted that “nobody likes to impose a tax because we are already over-taxed.”

But, Rushton added, “we can review this surcharge every year and rescind it if necessary.”

The surcharge represents a “user fee” more than a tax, and anyone can eliminate a phone line if they don’t want to pay the additional 42-cents per month, Rushton said.

District No. 3 Commissioner and County Board Chairman Will Bunek said he supported imposing the phone surcharge “because I really don’t want us to go for a millage” to pay for the 9-1-1 upgrade.

Lautner, however, would rather tap more traditional county funds than enact a phone surcharge.

“I’ve always pushed hard to fund 911 through our general fund, and I think we should just buckle down and do that,” Lautner said.

The county is facing the prospect of making annual payments of $276,000 per year over the next 10 years to finance the 9-1-1 upgrade.

Fire and rescue departments throughout the county are also paying “user fees” to the county for maintenance of the new radio equipment they’re all receiving based on how many radios and other devices they’ve been issued. However, those fees are expected to bring in less than 10 percent of what will be required to pay for the upgraded system.

County officials said more discussions will be required for the County Board to figure out exactly how it will pay for the new system in its entirety as budget discussions for 2018 get underway this summer.

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Besides lamenting the

Besides lamenting the forty-two cent tax hike 911 tax, the better thing to ponder is to ask; "What is in the best interests of the very men called upon to rescue us (taxpayers and visitors) in a time of emergency?" They (police,fire,emergency responders), risk their lives to help others. They are, and rightfully so, the primary focus. Let's make sure they are well taken care of. -Thank you Sheriff Mike for being the wonderful Sheriff you are to so many!