2018-01-18 / Front Page

Budget surprise: cost of 911 upgrade more than triples

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County will spend an additional $385,000 this year to continue an upgrade to the county’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system.

County officials had predicted the latest element of the upgrade would cost closer to $100,000, but that estimate proved to be too low, county officials said. The county will once again tap its Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund (DTRF) to cover the additional expense.

Last year, following months of discussion among county officials and managers of the county’s various emergency response agencies, the County Board approved a comprehensive $2.4 million upgrade to the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system that involved issuing hundreds of all new digital radios to each of the departments.

The director of the county’s Emergency Management office, Matt Ansorge, told the County Board last week that although the next step in equipment acquisition for the upgrade was higher than anticipated, the county was “able to save a lot of money on the radio project.”

Ansorge said the county is still “under budget for the upgrade project as a whole.”

County officials had expected to make annual payments of about $276,000 per year over the next 10 years to pay for the new system. The latest element of the upgrade will pay for new “9-1-1 call taking equipment for Leelanau County Dispatch.”

At last week’s meeting, County Treasurer John Gallagher told county commissioners that about $385,000 had been added to the DTRF in 2017 between administrative fees and delinquent tax interest. He said that once the 2018 acquisition for the 9-1-1 system is complete, “it will basically take all of 2018’s earnings” in the fund.

He said that if the county continues to tap the DTRF for big projects such as the 9-1-1 upgrade, the fund will not grow, and any additional funds will need to come from the county’s General Fund.

The county has been struggling for most of this century to decide on a consistent, ongoing way to pay for the 9-1-1 system, but commissioners have stopped short of asking voters to approve a special millage. Last year, the County Board authorized collection of a 42-cent per phone line surcharge that will raise about $95,000 this year to support the 9-1-1 system. The 42-cent phone surcharge is the most a county can impose without a vote of the people.

At its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night this week, the board agreed to add a goal to its annual list of goals – to decide on how the county will fund its evolving 9-1-1 dispatch system over the long term.

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