Central Dispatch will ask Muskegon County voters to approve increased surcharge for 9-1-1 services

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By Cynthia Price

For the most part, people think very little about 9-1-1.

They take for granted that, if they have an emergency, someone will dispatch law enforcement or fire personnel to help if they just dial those magic numbers.

In fact, there is an Internet meme that reads: “Hi I’m a 911 Dispatcher - One of the most important people you will never see.”

But making the magic happen - which often results in lives being saved or crimes averted - costs money.

That is why Muskegon Central Dispatch is going to ask the voters to approve an increase in the 9-1-1 surcharge on Nov. 6. The proposal, which was approved to be on the ballot by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners, asks for the monthly surcharge  – which is a flat fee and not a millage – to be increased from up to 42 cents per month to up to $2.75.

That translates to approximately $28 more per year per, provided Muskegon Central Dispatch, which is a separate dispatch authority with its own board, asks for the maximum. The surcharge is added to the bill of all landlines and mobile phones  subscribed with a Muskegon County address.

“This is not a luxury,” says Shawn Grabinski, Muskegon Central Dispatch Executive Director. “It’s not a want, it’s a need.”

That is because the state of the art for dispatch services has changed, to allow for increased numbers of calls and to be able to transmit critical data over the lines.

Infrastructure has to be changed to accommodate transmission over the state 800 MHz radio network.

Out of the 83 counties in Michigan, all but nine have made or are in the process of making the transition to the upgraded technology. This means, according to Grabinski, that not only will Muskegon’s existing equipment be very difficult to replace and equally difficult to repair by the end of 2018, but also, she adds, “When Ottawa and Kent counties switch to 800 MHz by the end of this year, we’re going to be an island. We’ll have no inter-operability.”

Said Whitehall Police Chief Roger Squiers, who also chairs the Muskegon County COPS Board, in a statement, “Reliable communication is crucial to delivering effective and efficient emergency response service to our citizens, businesses and visitors – and ensuring the safety of our first responders. In an emergency, when seconds count, having less reliable equipment that is not repairable could mean the difference between life and death.”

“It’s not enough to dial 9-1-1 and have your call answered and your situation addressed,” stated Muskegon Charter Township Fire Chief Dave Glotzbach, who chairs Central Dispatch’s Coordinating Committee. “Ensuring optimum safety means the radio systems work cohesively so that our first responders are ready when a disaster or emergency strikes.

“We have seen over and over how important it is for multiple public safety agencies to be able to come together to confront a natural disaster or man-made emergency. The proposed increase will improve our ability to protect our community.”

Basically, the additional money will go to fund the upgrade to the 800 MHZ radios, which are used by the 74 counties as well as the Michigan State Police; obtaining mobile data computers  to be compatible, since the current ones are out of warranty and replacement parts are hard to find; and solving the problem that the current location of Central Dispatch is unable to handle the new equipment and required radio tower.

Grabinski, who has been with Muskegon Central Dispatch for 33 years – and before that was a Firefighter and EMT, “so I understand the radio side” – says the projects are currently estimated to cost $15-17 million. She says that, when the projects are completed, if they have no need for the full $2.75 surcharge, the 11-member board, which has representation from cities, townships,  and one Muskegon County Commissioner, will request  less.

For more information visit https://mcd911.net/.

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