Election day is next Tuesday and voters in Calhoun County will decide how to fund their 911 service.
At first, the proposal may seem like just an increase - going from a $0.60 surcharge on each phone bill to $2.25, but the County says they’re not asking for more money, just a way to make the payments fair for everyone, and officials admit the proposal is sometimes tough to explain.
“Any time you (involve) government funds and property taxes … the general public believes we have no idea how much we pay and what you’re doing with the money,” says Kelli Scott, Calhuon County Controller, and Yes911 advocate.
She says 911 service is a must, and in March 2010, Calhoun County consolidated into one dispatch center.
Executive Director Jeff Troyer says more than 350,000 calls - both emergency and non-emergency - go through the center every year.
“We were tasked with coming up with a more fair and equitable funding solution so that all the residents in Calhoun County would pay the same thing for the same (911) service,” he explains.
Right now, there’s a $0.60 surcharge every month on each phone - wireless or landline - in Calhoun County. Troyer says the rest of the $3.5 million the dispatch center needs to operate is paid for by a handful of local governments, using property or income taxes.
‘It’s roughly 80 percent of the population is subsidizing the other 20 percent,” Troyer stated. “Everybody pays the $0.60 surcharge, and then ten municipalities (cities, villages, townships) ... pay above and beyond.”
For example, if you stand on the border between Marshall and Marshall Township, residents on the city side pay roughly $35 per year for 911 access, according to the County, while people on the township side pay about $6.50 for the same service.
“We’re asking people to choose not whether to pay or not to pay, but just which is the most fair and equitable model,” explains Scott.
The new 10-year plan, that will be on the ballot August 7, will replace the current $0.60 surcharge on resident’s phone bills, with one up to $2.25 per phone; and local governments will pay nothing.
“We’re really just asking for a simple model, everyone would basically pay their fair share," Scott says.
But not everyone is happy.
According to Troyer, there are several factors that determine whether an individual will end up paying more or less if the proposal passes – things like whether you rent or own your house, and how many phones you have.
He suggests going to the county’s website to see if your local government is spending additional tax money – and how much.
In the end, if the issue fails on the ballot, Calhoun County’s central dispatch will still get the funding it needs, but instead of phone surcharges for individuals, the county will invoice local governments for the number of calls made from each area; a bill that can reach upwards of $1 million.
“(Local governments) are strapped for funds, but they are gonna have to figure out a way to come up with that money (if the proposal fails),” Troyer says.
Click here for a list of local governments in Calhoun County that are paying more for 911 service.