SUTTONS BAY — A move to ask voters for an increase in a phone surcharge to pay for upgrades to the Leelanau County 911 system has been put on hold for now.
Leelanau commissioners at Tuesday's regular meeting heard more details on options for making the annual $276,000 payment for those $2.4 million in upgrades, but have a couple of months to decide whether to put the request on the August ballot.
County Administrator Chet Janik laid out a plan showing how a surcharge increase from 42 cents per month to about 90 cents would affect customers and how much money it would bring in.
The 42 cents customers now pay brings in about $90,000 per year; 90 cents per month would bring in about $194,150. The surcharge now costs each customer about $5 per year; the increase would have them paying about $11 per year.
The county is allowed to charge up to 42 cents per customer, but any amount beyond that must be approved by voters. The amount that can be collected is capped at $3.
The 42 cent surcharge went into effect several months ago as a way to help pay for upgrades that included new digital radios, new equipment in the dispatch center and other improvements.
This year and last the county's Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund has been used to make that payment, but Treasurer John Gallagher says that can't continue.
"Based on our current spending habits it does cause some alarm," Gallagher said.
The county has also used about half of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) money it receives from the National Park Service — $52,876 this year — and could use $100,000 it has gotten in an insurance rebate for the last six years, Janik said. But neither the PILT money, which is funded through Congress each year, or the insurance refund is guaranteed, he said.
Commissioner Tony Ansorge thinks the county should ask voters for a surcharge increase.
"I think we need to move forward and start collecting revenue for 911 and not keep stealing from the general fund," Ansorge said. "Lets not kick this can down the road."
Commissioner Ty Wessell agrees. "I would prefer to look at a very reasonable increase in the rate that's collected and pass that on to the voters," he said.
The decision to put the surcharge question to voters must be made by April to get it on the Aug. 7 ballot, and by August to get it on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Not all commissioners are on board with that plan.
Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little said the county has adequate money to make the payment.
"I feel comfortable that we can make our debt payment comfortably for the next couple of years," she said.
There also has been talk about the county exploring an option to collect a per household fee similar to the recycling fee residents now pay. The measure would require approval from the state legislature to hold a special election that would allow each household one vote.
The board has directed Janik to begin looking into that option, which would take a couple of years.
Commissioner Debra Rushton likes the idea of an annual household fee. It's an option that would provide stable funding for many years, she said.