TRAVERSE CITY — Calls to Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch’s 911 emergency lines are up nearly 20 percent since 2010, said Director Jason Torrey, who helped draft ballot proposal language asking voters if they support an increased surcharge.

“We’re growing as a community in terms of population and in terms of being a popular place for tourists and then add on more devices out there in the hands of people willing to call,” Torrey said. “There’s simply more people with access and our calls are up across the board.”

The surcharge, up to $2.50 per device per month from Jan. 1, 2021 – Dec. 31, 2027, would provide an estimated $2.77 million annually to staff, train and equip the county’s public safety dispatching services and radio communications, information shows.

The current surcharge, which expires Dec. 31, is $1.85.

Grand Traverse County Commissioner Brad Jewett, who serves on the 911 Board, said he and other members spent eight months researching costs and potential revenue before deciding on $2.50.

“This would not take money out of the county budget for the infrastructure and the upgrades that are needed with this equipment,” Jewett said. “The money would allow us to stay on the cutting edge of technology.”

Grand Traverse County commissioners unanimously approved putting the question on the ballot earlier this year, board minutes show.

The average voter-approved 911 surcharge in the region is $2.49, with Benzie and Missaukee each collecting $3, Kalkaska collecting $2.52 and Wexford $2.25. Leelanau County doesn’t have a voter-approved surcharge and assesses .42. The state legislature capped the maximum at $3, Torrey said.

The increased revenue would be used to upgrade two workstations so they are operational for extra staff to use during festivals, severe weather or high profile incidents, which generates additional call volume, Torrey said.

“A big fire, a major weather event, the recent flooding events downtown, an Amber Alert, any of these will increase call volume,” he said.

The funds would also be used to upgrade equipment for first responders and have 24-hour supervisory coverage at Central Dispatch, he said.

The revenue breakdown includes $1,772,962 for staffing and operations, $420,000 for purchase, maintenance and replacement of radio and paging equipment, $230,500 for contracts and system maintenance, $250,000 for infrastructure improvements and $130,000 for facility and 911 systems replacement.

Central Dispatch has a history of exceeding national standards by answering 99 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds, Torrey said. The increased surcharge would also allow the county to add a microwave link to the radio communications system, which would reduce the risk for potential radio and paging downtime, Torrey said.

Jewett said the 2015 upgrade to 800MHz communications improved reliability and speed and requires regular maintenance to work efficiently. Torrey said “holes” of radio coverage have been identified, including in areas along Garfield Road, south of Potter Road in East Bay Township and near Kingsley.

Torrey said surcharge funds would help pay for a fill-in to “back-fill” those holes by adding a microwave link to an existing tower off River Road.

“Eight hundred megahertz has a shelf life and if you don’t do required maintenance, you can get behind the eight-ball real fast,” Jewett said.

Should the ballot surcharge request not be approved, diminished efficiency and increased safety concerns for first responders as well as response times could be impacted, Torrey said.

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