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Delta County 9-1-1 millage levy hiked

ESCANABA — Delta County’s 911 Authority millage will be levied at its full rate of 0.75 mills ($0.75 per $1,000 of taxable value). The increase was approved by the Delta County Board of Commissioners during a meeting Tuesday.

According to Delta County Central Dispatch (DCCD) 911 Coordinator Darin Hunter, who gave a presentation at the meeting, the county’s 911 millage was originally proposed and approved in 2005. At the time, it was set to last through July 2020 and was levied at 0.5 mills ($0.50 per $1,000 of taxable value).

In 2019, Delta County voters approved the renewal of the 911 millage for another five years. It was renewed at 0.75 mills, but has been levied at a rate of $0.45 mills ($0.45 per $1,000 of taxable value).

“I’m here tonight to ask that we can go for a full capture,” Hunter said.

The change could help provide funding for a 800MHz radio system for DCCD. Hunter spoke about the proposed system during Tuesday’s meeting.

DCCD communications are currently split across multiple systems. Fire and EMS dispatching is handled on a system making use of six VHF tower sites across the county, and Escanaba Public Safety’s radio uses a separate VHF system. Meanwhile, the Delta County Sheriff’s Department, Gladstone Public Safety and Michigan State Police are dispatched via the state’s digital trunked radio system.

In 2019, DCCD provided dispatching services in a total of 20,780 incidents. The VHF systems they have been using for this work are outdated, and are affected by inconsistent coverage and interference.

“The system is roughly 30 years-plus in age,” Hunter said.

The cost of upgrading the current VHF system was estimated at $3.9 million.

“The 911 Authority then directed me to try to look at alternative measures, and one of the alternative measures I’m looking at is transferring over to an 800(MHz) system,” Hunter said.

Hunter said these systems have a number of advantages. These include uniform radio coverage for all first responders; improved coverage and accountability; and the fact that towers, antennas and equipment would be maintained by Michigan Public Safety Communication System.

The disadvantages of moving to an 800MHz system that Hunter listed were mostly related to finances. Hunter said the total cost of the project was estimated between $2.4 million and $3.6 million.

“Currently, at the .45 mills, we do not have enough revenue for a capital outlay project of this magnitude,” he said.

Work on the 800MHz project would take place over four phases. In Phase One — which is set to continue over the next six months — the authority will seek FAA certification or exemption of a 100-foot tower at Escanaba Public Safety and will work with Michigan Public Safety Communication System to do a study on the possibility of using Escanaba Public Safety as a “micro-site” for a 800MHz antenna, among other work.

In Phase Two — which would take place between the six-month and one-year marks — all township fire departments, EMS and law enforcement departments (with the exception of Michigan State Police) would be outfitted with 800MHz radios. A micro-site and/or “green site” would begin operating to allow for optimal coverage within Escanaba’s city limits.

In Phase Three — which would take place between the one-year and 18-month marks — Escanaba Public Safety would transfer its full communications to 800MHz after coverage is upgraded. Prices would be sought for 800MHz pagers, and a study would be done for 800MHz paging equipment for DCCD consoles.

Finally, in Phase Four — which would take place between the 18-month and 24-month marks — the county’s radio and paging would be fully transferred to 800MHz communication operability and a decision would be made on what to do with the VHF system.

After some discussion by the board, a motion to increase the rate at which the 911 Authority millage is levied from 0.45 mills to 0.75 mills was unanimously approved.

In other business, the board:

– accepted a $6,476,285 bid from Payne & Dolan for work on Runway 10/28 and Taxiway B at the Delta County Airport. Amendments to the project were also approved.

– approved a budget increase of $20,000 for the county clerk’s office’s elections budget. The county will be reimbursed for the increase by the state later in the year.

– set the county’s general fund tax rate at 5.0317 mills ($5.0317 per $1,000 of taxable value), as has been the case in previous years.

– heard a brief overview of the county’s taxable value for 2020. Equalization Director Juli Kolbe said the county’s taxable value for the year was $1,202,466,865.

– gave MSU Extension approval to reopen the Escanaba Community Garden.

– authorized the appointment of Jessica Gallagher as Delta County’s next Friend of the Court, starting June 25.

– adjusted salary rates for the county’s Friend of the Court and Domestic Relations Referee positions.

– gave the UPward Talent Council authority to continue subleasing a portion of its leased property at the Delta County Service Center.

– approved an agreement with the courthouse union to combine two part-time custodial positions into one full-time position.

– approved a request to reclassify Co-Legal Assistant to the Friend of the Court Melissa Kaukola from Level 3, Step 2 to Level 4, Step 1. Her job description was also amended.

– re-appointed William Lenca, Jeffery Lenca, Charles Oslund and Jeremy Pipp to the Remonumentation Peer Group; Terrence Wanic was re-appointed as an alternate. Additionally, Jordan Ketola — who was accidentally sworn in in 2018 without being appointed by the board — was retroactively appointed.

– made an appointment to the Pathways Board.

– heard from Vice Chair David Rivard about his efforts to resume regular meetings with state legislators.

– tabled a discussion on providing additional financial support for the city of Escanaba’s ongoing tax dispute with Menards related to the “dark store” tax theory until more information is available.

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