ALPENA -The current surcharge for the Alpena County 911 Center is set to expire, and if it isn't renewed during the Aug. 7 primary election, there could be changes made to the system, as well as a large drain on the county budget. The 911 center relies on a surcharge to maintain operations of the service in the county, and the revenue generated from the surcharge is needed to pay for building maintenance, equipment upgrades, and staff. The monthly surcharge is applied to landline, cell phones, wireless, and VOIP providers within the county and cannot exceed $3 a month.
Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Szor said maintaining and improving the system now is important. He said in most emergencies, time is of the essence and that the initial communication is critical.
"The call into the 911 center is the first link to the emergency response system, and it is the most important," Szor said. "The surcharge money is used for the facility, the equipment and the wages and benefits of the dispatchers.We are proud of the center. It is for the safety of our citizens and visitors. I ask people to please support this renewal."
If voters approve the surcharge for the next five years, it will allow the department to move forward into the next generation of 911 and emergency rescue technology, which will reduce response times and allow the emergency personnel to be more prepared upon arrival to the scene.
"New advancements will allow better mapping and be able to pin-point phone calls much more accurately," Szor said. "It will also be able to deal with text messages and video. A person could actually upload a video of what is transpiring, and the dispatcher could see the events unfold. The video would also be passed along to the responders so they can prepare and have a plan in place before they get to the scene."
Szor said 911 gets some money from the state of Michigan, but it is geared toward training and wireless needs. If the surcharge funds were to end, it would cost the county a lot of money to maintain what is offered now, he said.
911 Operating Surcharge Reauthorization Proposal
For the period beginning on January1, 2013 and continuing through the month of December in the year 2017, shall Alpena County be authorized to assess a monthly surcharge of up to $3 in the monthly billings of landline, wireless and VOIP service suppliers within the geographic boundaries of Alpena County; to be used exclusively for the continuing funding of 911 emergency telephone call answering and dispatch services with Alpena County, including facilities, equipment and operations?
"Our annual budget, not including the money from the state, is $780,000, and I don't know where we would get the money from," Szor said. "We would be in a world of hurt because the money would have to come out of the general fund. I can't stress the importance of this enough."
Alpena County Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said if the surcharge is not approved the service would suffer, or changes to the budget would have to be made, which would impact other county entities.
"If it doesn't pass, I'm not sure how 911 would survive. We wouldn't be able to absorb that kind of hit to our general fund," VanWormer said. "We just can't run it with money from the general fund without making big cuts to other places, and I'm not sure where we could make them. This is an important renewal not just for 911, but for county finances as well."
Szor said there is another option to raise the needed revenue to pay for 911, but it would be more costly to many people in the county. He said the rate of $3 is the same as in years past, and an increase of the amount is not on the horizon.
"The other option would be to have a millage, which some counties do," Szor said. "I think in the long run this is cheaper, plus it is fairer because the cost is shared by almost everyone in the county. It has worked well this far and been a great program. We haven't had to increase it, and I don't see any need to. The funding it generates is adequate, but needed to continue the service we currently provide."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.