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Proposed increase, extension of county 911 surcharge inching its way closer to appearing on Aug. 6 ballot

GENESEE COUNTY — A proposed increase and extension of Genesee County’s 911 surcharge is inching closer to making its way onto ballots in the Aug. 6 primary election.

A motion was passed by members of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee May 1 to approve a resolution setting the 911 surcharge minimum at $2.60 to be placed on the ballot along with consideration to amend the resolution to create a restricted fund for technology upgrades.

Finance Committee chair Martin Cousineau said $2.60 is the bare minimum needed to keep the 911 call center operational.

Wednesday’s motion comes after multiple meetings between accountants from the county and Genesee County 911, emergency meetings of the 911 Executive and General membership boards and a study session that was held April 25 where a surcharge fee of $2.50 was suggested.

“That fee would not fit comfortably for us,” said Genesee County 911 Communication Center Executive Director Tim Jones during an emergency meeting of the Genesee County 911 Consortium Board held April 30.

In addition, Jones explained the $2.60 surcharge would give Genesee County 911 just enough money to be able to pay its bills and operate at its current level without any debt or passing on any cost back to the local municipalities under the current 911 plan.

“I made the motion for $2.60 but I have been thinking about what I’ve learned over this process,” said Commissioner Dale Weighill, who represents the eighth district.

Weighill said he toured the 911 center and identified three fundamental issues that Genesee County 911 is facing, which are space constraints within the 911 call center, trying to provide support for local municipalities with equipment like radios and keeping the 911 call center operational.

He said he learned the last time Genesee County 911 purchased radios for the municipalities that wanted them was between 2017 and 2018, and that cost roughly $8 million, and that they picked up the bill.

“Going forward at $2.60 for five years, there would be no ability to cost share let alone pay for 100% of future technology costs.”

He added he learned a new building for the 911 call center would be off the table with the $2.60 surcharge, but that federal or state dollars could help update or build a new facility.

“The floor is $2.60. I am willing and open to increasing it because the priorities are keeping 911 operational and providing some dollars that could be put into a restricted fund for future cost sharing of radios and other technology,” said Weighill.

However, if the surcharge was increased to $3, it would exclusively fund 911 emergency call answering and dispatch services within Genesee County including facilities, equipment, maintenance, and operating costs, which is what Jones, members of the Genesee County 911 Consortium, police and fire chiefs have said all along.

The Genesee County 911 Communications Center serves as central dispatch for 31 communities, 26 police departments, 19 fire departments and four emergency medical ambulance services. The center directs almost half a million calls annually.

The resolution will be brought before the full board of commissioners during a meeting scheduled for May 8 at 5:30 p.m.