Vote yes on 911 request

August 4, 2014

Our View. By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

It is not the standard practice of this news organization to endorse candidates or ballot issues. However, we are making an exception in the case of the millage request from Mason-Oceana 911 and are asking you to vote yes Tuesday. 

How much are you willing to pay annually to help ensure that there is a greater chance of more lives being saved in Mason and Oceana counties? How about dinner for two at a local fast food restaurant? Perhaps a six-pack of beer? A pack of cigarettes? Two gallons of gas?

That’s how much Mason-Oceana 911 is asking you to pay annually if Tuesday’s millage request is approved by voters.

The 911 board is requesting a .14 six-year millage. This means about $7 a year to the average home owner. Why the request? When 911 began 19 years ago most households had landlines. Cell phones were more of a luxury item. Therefore, 75 percent of the funding of the 911 center was through a surcharge placed on landlines. The law also allowed for that same surcharge to be placed on locally billed cell phone accounts. Those two issues are what has cost 911, just in the last year, almost $47,000.

If the millage request is not approved, the center will continue to make budget cutbacks, as it has the past several years. This time, though, the cutbacks will mean reducing staff in a center that is already operating at near-minimum capacity. It will mean less people in the first link of the emergency chain. It will mean a higher frequency of 911 calls being automatically re-routed to other dispatch centers, such as Manistee or Muskegon counties, because of the inability to answer all the calls. Re-routing calls means longer waits for emergency, which equals more chances of lost lives and property.

The decline in local surcharge revenues is caused by the increased use of cell phones. There are two main factors at work — monthly plans vs. prepaid plans and occupied vs. vacant homes, according to a 911 information sheet.

(1)  Monthly plans vs. prepaid plans — when the billing address is in Mason or Oceana counties, 911 collects $2.09 in local surcharge revenues every month from devices capable of dialing 911 that are on a month-to-month plan. Cellular phone coverage has greatly improved in the two-county area and many people are switching to ‘prepaid’ plans that are much less expensive. The prepaid revenue model is radically different and only a fraction of the monthly $2.09 local surcharge revenue is passed back through the prepaid model.

(2) Occupied vs. vacant homes — both counties have much higher percentages of vacant homes compared to the state average. Only 65 percent of houses in Oceana County are occupied and 70.9 percent in Mason County compared to the state average of 84.3 percent. This is important because people owning the vacant homes are no longer paying for a land line phone, and their cell phone billing address is outside our area, meaning Mason-Oceana 911 receives $0 in local surcharges. These vacant homes contribute to the surge of of summertime incidents and in many cases, they pay $0 for Mason-Oceana 911 services.

If approved, the .014 millage proposal will cost $7 per $50,000 in taxable value ($100,000 true cash value) annually. Compared to the new millage proposal, a local surcharge increase of 90 cents would have cost an additional $10.80 per device annually.”

The 911 dispatch center, located in northern Oceana County’s Weare Township, covers 2,500 square miles and a population of 55,000 residents with its two-county area, not to mention the amount of visitors who come to both counties, especially in the summer.

Mason-Oceana 911 serves 18 law enforcement agencies, two ambulance services and 19 fire departments, 11 of which are in Mason County.

The 911 staff employs 19 people, including 14 full-time and five part-time. There are three dispatchers on duty from 8-2 a.m. and two working from 2-8 a.m.

The dispatch center handles an average of 200 incidents per day with that amount increasing to 300-400 during the summer. One incident, such as a major car accident, can result in 30 calls for dispatchers to handle. With the increase in cell phone use, more 911 calls are going out.

The 911 staff has recently took a 5 percent pay reduction.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The millage must pass in both counties in order for it to be implemented. Please go out and vote, and vote yes on the 911 proposal. It could save your life.

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