County approves 911 surcharge increase for November ballot
WEST BRANCH — The Ogemaw County Board of Commissioners approved placing a 911 surcharge increase of $1 on the November ballot during its Aug. 23 meeting.
Adding the surcharge question to the ballot was approved 5-2 with Commissioners Pete Hennard and Bruce Reetz dissenting. If approved, the surcharge on county residents’ monthly phone bills would increase from 59 cents to $1.59.
Reetz said he did not think commissioners should place the surcharge on the ballot because he felt the voters made their wishes clear when they turned down a 911 millage in August.
“On our last election, they told us they don’t want to spend any more money,” he said.
Hennard said with a transit millage renewal on the ballot, he did not want to put another ballot initiative before the voters.
“I’m not going to vote for it, because I think we’re going to put a transit millage on the ballot, and I don’t want to flood the ballot with too many proposals,” he said.
However, other board members said the surcharge increase, which is projected to raise about $200,000 in its first year, was more likely to pass than the August 911 millage per their discussions with people in the community.
“As we went out at the fairgrounds and in the community, the 911 people said it should be a user fee,” said Commissioner Bev Scott.
She added that $1 a month was not too much to ask for.
“I can collect bottles in front of my house in one weekend and pay for that bill,” she said.
Commissioner Greg Illig said the surcharge increase would not even cover the whole budget for 911 and the county would still have to appropriate monies from its general fund for Central Dispatch. For the past several years, the county has allotted about $350,000 out of its general fund for Central Dispatch.
Illig said even though the county would still have to appropriate some funds if the surcharge was increased, it could avoid having to spend a large amount on replacing equipment.
“Right now, if we have a meltdown over there, we’re in serious trouble,” he said.
Board Chairman John West said with aging equipment, and a projected budget shortfall for fiscal year 2012-13, putting the surcharge on the ballot was the least the county could do.
“In the county, we’re over $300,000 short in our budget,” he said. “Our equipment’s getting old. We had a server go last year and it cost us over $40,000.”
Commissioner Ron Quackenbush said if the surcharge were approved, he would like to see 50 percent of the revenue it generates be put aside in an equipment fund.
“The board of commissioners needs to make a commitment, maybe not tonight, but at our next meeting, that a portion of revenue from this will be earmarked for new equipment,” he said.
He added the public needs to be informed that the 911 surcharge monies are used only for Central Dispatch, and not to balance the county’s budget, or for EMS or other services. Quackenbush said many voters could be confused when they see EMS purchasing a new building, and think that 911 also has additional funding.
“I think we all let Carol (Adair, Central Dispatch Director) down,” Quackenbush said. “If we’re going to ask for this, we’ve got to come together with the 911 board and work at selling this.”
“We did that last time,” Reetz responded.
Commissioner Scott Colclasure said whether the surcharge increase passes or fails, it is the county’s duty to put it before the voters.
“If we don’t ask the voters, and something happens and we don’t have the money, then it’s shame on us,” he said.