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Genesee County 911 asking voters to continue telephone surcharge

The monthly charge on cell and landline phone numbers provides $8 million a year for the 911 center
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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GENESEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Genesee County 911 is asking voters to renew funding on May 4 that will keep their critical service operating.

There’s no tax increase, just a renewal of the telephone surcharge people in the county already are paying, which is less than $2 per month. If the request is voted down, taxpayers may end up paying more in the long run.

Genesee County’s 911 dispatchers answer on average about 1,000 emergency calls per day, sending police, fire and EMS services to people who need their help.

“A lot of people, they say, ‘Well I don’t use 911.’ If you don’t use it, you may pick up the phone one day and hope that we’re on the other end and we hope that we’re there as well,” said Genesee County Central Dispatch Director Spring Tremaine.

To make sure the critical service continues, the 911 center need a yes vote for the surcharge renewal on the May 4 ballot.

Genesee County residents already are paying up to $1.86 per month for each cell phone and landline number, which totals about $22 per year for 911 service. Tremaine said the surcharge brings in about $8 million per year.

“And that 100% covers all of our labor costs and our equipment, operations, maintenance,” she said. “We do support nine towers in this county, that allow all the police, fire, EMS to talk on the radio and allow us to get the calls out to those folks as well.”

The current surcharge expires on Dec. 31, so the 911 center will run out of funding at the end of this year if the renewal fails. Tremaine said Genesee County Central Dispatch has $3 million in savings, which could extend the service for another six months to June 2022.

After that, the 911 center would turn to every city, township and village they serve to come up with that $8 million without the surcharge.

“Yes, there is a plan in place that was developed 25 years ago that many of these agencies really don’t even remember entering into because it was a long time ago. Those agencies have to step up and support us,” Tremaine said.

The agreement stipulates that every local government in Genesee County must pay a percentage of the 911 center’s budget based on size.

“And those cities, villages don’t necessarily have the money set aside for this,” Tremaine said.

That means the cost may fall even harder on community members in the form of a tax increase.

“I want everybody know that their money is being spent very wisely. We work very hard, it is doing a great job and we’re not always perfect, but we work to improve that all the time,” Tremaine said.

She pointed out that counties can ask for a surcharge of up to $3 per phone line, so Genesee County is low on the list of Michigan’s 83 counties. Saginaw and Shiawassee counties charge $2.65 each month per phone line but Gladwin County only charges 51 cents per month.

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