Four levy options to fund a 911 infrastructure update are being mulled by Lorain County commissioners.
“No amount of money is saved by not taking care of our people,” county administrator James Cordes told commissioners. “We’ve managed to eek out a number of years with current equipment but it’s now becoming obsolete. Plus, our backup center from day one hasn’t been what I consider proper backup.”
A unanimous vote authorized county officials to research how much a .50 mill replacement, .50 mill renewal, .55 mill increase, or .60 mill increase would generate toward costs of system updates over five years.
A plan to move to Next Generation 911 was approved by commissioners May 31. It will provide text-to-911 capability and eventually the ability to receive texts from emergency responders.
Early cost estimates for the overhaul were approximately $3 million but now sit between $1.5 million and $1.8 million. However, those numbers are also not yet set in stone, Cordes said.
“We’re trying to formulate these numbers now so we can make a responsible decision after we know what the millage would raise,” he said. “There’s timelines we have to meet to be able to hand this over to the board of elections to put it on the ballot.”
If the measure is approved by voters in November it won’t begin generating revenue until 2019. That’s because the county’s existing 911 levy will still be in effect through 2018.
“The taxpayers have been overwhelmingly supportive of 911 levies,” Cordes said. “I’ve been working with 911 since 1993 and we’ve never had to aggressively campaign to drum up support for it. I’m hoping it stays that way. That’s why you get it out there early. If you sense there is a problem, you at least have a chance to rally the forces.”
“Years ago the state passed a small cell phone fee that does go to communities with a primary (911 call center),” he said. “But it’s a small portion of the revenue that’s used to support operations. The state distributes those revenues as it sees fit. As anything with the state, that’s always suspect in terms of how long it will last or how they’ll dictate how it’s used. For that and many other reasons, this levy is hugely important.”
Cordes said he’d like to eventually see new repeater towers installed in corners of the county, especially rural areas, that sometimes have trouble with cell phone reception and radio communication.
There are still too many pockets of Lorain County where emergency forces lose communication, he said. “There should be no spot in this county that’s at risk for losing contact with our safety forces. It’s just not acceptable.”
He hopes to have solid numbers on how much money the millage will generate by the commissioner’s next meeting on June 28, which could lead to a vote to put it on the ballot.
Cordes plans to give presentations over the summer that show the importance of continued 911 funding and the need to keep up with advancements in technology.
“Think of some poor lady getting beat up by her husband,” he said. “She’s huddled in the closet trying to text out and all we can do is call her back. The phone rings and it puts her in even more danger. Because many of us don’t live in that world, we don’t understand how challenging it is and how dangerous it is, how humiliating and humbling it is. Today’s technology allows us to better help those people and we need to take advantage of it.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.