Shiawassee Central Dispatch has a proposition for 9-1-1 system funding on the upcoming Tuesday, March 8 ballot. Shiawassee 9-1-1 is separate from all other county services and their only source of funding is the 9-1-1 fees (surcharge) on phone service. Per the State of Michigan Public Act 32 of 1986 as amended, funds generated from those fees can only be spent on 9-1-1 operations.
The last voter approved surcharge for 9-1-1 operations was $2.50 a month on phone service. In 2008, the State of Michigan amended the law to include charges on cell phone service and the local surcharge for Shiawassee Central Dispatch was reduced to $1.22 a month. As the use of cell phones became more popular citizens began to drop their landlines phones and continue to do so. The reduction in the monthly surcharge amount and the number of landline phones has caused a decrease in funding for 9-1-1 operations.
Since 2010, Shiawassee Central Dispatch revenues and the number of phones funding 9-1-1 operations has dropped at an average rate of 3 percent annually. The population in Shiawassee County has also dropped 2.43 percent since 2010. The cost of operations continues to increase annually while the revenue decreases. This has created an annual deficit for Shiawassee 9-1-1 in its current state of operations.
In addition to the reduced surcharge and loss of landline phones, a major contributing factor to the decline in revenue for 9-1-1 operations is the movement to prepaid phones. The public is now largely turning to prepaid phones to avoid lengthy, expensive contracts. There is no local 911 fee on prepaid phones. There is only a State 9-1-1 fee of 1.92 percent of the retail transaction for prepaid service. That money goes to the State of Michigan 9-1-1 emergency fund. The state takes 82.5 percent of that fund and divides it among all of the 9-1-1 centers in Michigan distributing 40 percent equally and 60 percent per capita. Shiawassee Central Dispatch only receives a small portion from that fund, approximately $200,000 annually, and a portion of that can only be spent on training.
The State of Michigan and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have expectations that 9-1-1 centers must be able to answer all citizen activated communications. That means 9-1-1 centers must be able to answer not only a call to 9-1-1 for help, but also a text message, video call and data transfer from citizens. The FCC has already mandated that the phone companies providing 9-1-1 service upgrade their equipment so 9-1-1 centers have the ability to do that. The technology used for that type of communication is called Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) technology. Due to the phone company upgrading their equipment, the legacy equipment that Shiawassee Central Dispatch has will no longer be supported by them in about a year. The cost to upgrade just the 9-1-1 phone system is approximately $400,000. That does not include the additional requirements for NG911.
NG911 technology does provide 9-1-1 centers the ability to have multiple redundancy options in the event one or more connections to the 9-1-1 system fail as it did just a few weeks ago here in Shiawassee County. The legacy 9-1-1 equipment currently in use at Shiawassee Central Dispatch does not have that ability. The ability to receive 9-1-1 emergency calls through multiple connections is crucial to 9-1-1 operations. If one connection fails, the call could still be received through a different connection. All 9-1-1 centers must also have a fully equipped backup center that they can operate out of in the event of a complete failure or need for evacuation of the main dispatch center. The current backup center for Shiawassee Central Dispatch is not adequate to operate at full capacity and maintain operations for a prolonged period of time.
Emergency 9-1-1 Centers in Michigan are required to follow the “State 9-1-1 Plan.” The State of Michigan revised their “State 9-1-1 Plan” in September of 2011 to address the requirements of NG911 technology. Section 6, Resource Allocation paragraph 5 recognized that “as this revised State 9-1-1 Plan is implemented, current funding and funding allocation may not be adequate for migration to NG911 service.” “The counties and PSAPs (9-1-1 Centers) may need additional support staff, technical experts, and equipment to meet the plan’s goals.”
Shiawassee Central Dispatch is requesting to asses up to $2.65 a month on phone service in order to meet the needs of the center and adhere to the State requirements. That is only 15 cents more than what the voters had approved prior to 2008 to fund 9-1-1 emergency service. The cost of operations has continued to increase annually since that time. The actual difference in cost to the citizens is only $1.43 a month. That will restore funding to sustain 9-1-1 emergency operations and support mandated equipment upgrades. The upgrades will improve communication and information sharing as well as enhance the safety of the citizens and emergency responders of Shiawassee County.
For more information please visit the Citizens in support of Shiawassee 911’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SupportShiawasseeCo911.