(Posted May 2, 2018)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is seeking voter approval of a 1-mill, five-year levy for operation of the county’s 9-1-1 emergency phone system. The issue appears on the May 8 primary election ballot.
If passed, the levy would generate approximately $1.15 million per year. The cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would be $35 per year.
Currently, the 9-1-1 system is funded by a 0.8-mill levy that has been on the books since 1990 and generates $616,000 per year. If the new 1.0-mill levy passes, collection on the 0.8-mill levy would stop.
Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin said more funds are needed for personnel and equipment.
“We’ve reached a point in the dispatch center where, during peak hours, additional personnel is certainly necessary,” he said.
Currently, two dispatchers work per shift. The levy would allow the department to add a third dispatcher for the first and second shifts when the center is busiest.
The dispatch center, located on Garfield Avenue in London, receives all 9-1-1 calls that originate in Madison County, including all cities, villages and townships. The center dispatches calls for all emergency medical, fire responders and deputies. Last year, the center received more than 16,000 calls to 9-1-1, 54,000 non-emergency calls, and dispatched 30,000 incidents. The number of calls goes up 3 percent to 5 percent per year.
“And the dispatches are becoming more and more complex. Almost all calls involve mutual aid, which means we’re keeping track of and connecting multiple responders and multiple 9-1-1 calls about the same incident,” Sabin said.
He also noted that the new levy would help the department keep up with increases in personnel salaries and benefits.
As for equipment, the Sheriff’s Office is in the process of replacing the backbone of the 9-1-1 system, which has experienced failures recently due to age and hardware issues. The $218,000 expenditure has depleted the 9-1-1 fund reserves, Sabin said.
Also of concern financially is the maintenance and eventual replacement of radio communications systems used by first responders, Sabin said.
First responders around the county upgraded their communication capabilities in recent years. The new systems link information directly to first responders that is “vital when every second counts,” Sabin said. One-time grant funding covered the purchase of the new equipment; new computer aided dispatch systems were implemented, as well. The entities using the systems are responsible for the cost of upkeep and replacement.
“Both of these cause an additional and ongoing financial burden on all of the entities (that use them),” Sabin explained, adding that the Sheriff’s Office could help offset these costs with the additional levy funds.
Regarding the importance of a well-staffed and up-to-date 9-1-1 system, Sabin commented, “The county has grown and the number of calls has increased. Technology has evolved to where we can provide better service to the public and at the same time ensure the safety of those first responders.”