Citizens at Odds Over Proposed Levy
Huron County officials have said they need at least $4 million to upgrade the county’s outdated 911 operations, which has had nine outages in the past year-and-a-half. In November, voters will be asked to vote on a five-year 911 levy to fund the required upgrades.
Despite the benefits that the proposed levy will provide Huron County, the levy is not getting wide support from the community as evidenced by opposing opinions posted on the Norwalk Reflector, Huron County’s local community blog.
An Argument Against the Levy
On October 2, Lynn Bayley, a Monroeville resident, contributed a post entitled “Do not support 911 levy without answers“. Ms. Bayley takes the position that there are alternatives to funding 9-1-1 upgrades that don’t require a levy on the cost of property owners with property valued at $100,000 or more.
However, Ms. Bayley goes a step further to argue that Huron County has not given consideration to other measures that would help minimize the costs of upgrades such as partnering with other jurisdictions, leveraging existing infrastructure or consolidation. Ms. Bayley also points out that Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) are losing wireline subscribers due to consumers transitioning more to ditching traditional wirelines and using mobile devices. Interestingly enough, Ms. Bayley is a former account executive with a major telecom carrier.
The levy, if approved by the voters would cost property owners $25.38 each year, or $2.12 per month, for a home valued at $100,000 — bringing in about $862,100 each year.
An Argument For the Levy
On October 7th, Tacy Bond, 911 coordinator for the county’s emergency management agency, said some county residents were puzzled that the county was asking for a total of about $4.3 million over five years.
The county emergency management agency released a breakdown of their anticipated costs for the upgrades. Currently, between initial costs and annual operating costs, the county estimates it needs close to $4.1 million to complete its upgrade projects.
The majority of what the levy will pay for goes toward the installation of new equipment and software. Bond said about $3.6 million of funds brought in by the levy be used for projects including new communications towers, generators, repeaters, microwave links, upgrade radios and multiple computers for law enforcement, and new computer equipment for dispatchers to replace equipment that is no longer supported by software vendors.
On October 7th, Ms. Bond offered her own opposing opinion to Ms. Bayley with her own post to the Norwalk Reflector requesting support of the 911 levy. Specifically noted in Ms. Bond’s post is that Huron County had studied the feasibility of consolidation of PSAPS in 2016; however found that upfront costs and operating budgets were unrealistic and have also required an entry to property tax levies.
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Need for System Improvements
Bond said the county’s 911 system has had nine outages in the last 18 months. When the system goes down, dispatchers can’t use mapping systems to pinpoint a caller’s location. “You just get the voice,” she said during a presentation Tuesday at the Norwalk city council.
A proposed solution to this is creating a “redundant” 911 system with a neighboring county. What that means is if something causes the county’s 911 system to fail, 911 calls made in Huron County would get picked up by a neighboring county’s 911 center.
Bond said the state’s 911 funding, done through a 25-cent monthly fee on wireless phone calls, isn’t enough to fund county 911 operations, and that it wouldn’t allow that money to be used for some of the projects they want to complete, like radio upgrades. Huron County receives only about $128,000 each year from the 911 wireless fees. “If (the state) would raise the tax to $2.50, it would bring in $1.2 million per year,” Bond said. “Then we wouldn’t need a levy, per se.”
Bond said her agency also intends to pursue a grant from the state’s commerce department and the Ohio 911 Program Office for Next-Gen 911 funding. There’s going to $4.3 million in funding available, done through reimbursement grants of 60 percent of the cost of an eligible project.
But Bond noted the funding might not be approved for all the projects the county intends to pursue. “Eighty-eight counties are applying for it, at the end of the day we might not get much of anything at all,” she said.
Bond noted a similar argument in her October 7th blog post by stating that the distribution of the state’s grant monies many only net Huron County $50,000, far less than what is needed to complete the necessary upgrades.
In November, the fate of Huron’s County upgrade projects will be in the hands of the voters. Tacy Bond continues to get the word out to her community to support the bond through a her curated Facebook page ‘Committee for Yes on Huron County 9-1-1 and Emergency Services Levy‘.