With passage of 911 surcharge, county gets ready to build new dispatch system

Undersheriff Michele LaJoy-Young as he discusses the 9-1-1 dispatch surcharge. Photo now.wktv.org.
Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young as she discusses the 9-1-1 dispatch surcharge. Photo now.wktv.org.

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



Now that voters have overwhelmingly approved the surcharge increase for the 9-1-1 Public Safety Dispatch, supporters and the Kent County Sheriff Department really have their work cut out for them.


“It’s a big project with a lot of work,” said Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young.


Last night, Kent County voters approved the 70-cent increase to the current Kent County surcharge of 45 cents in a three-to-one margin with 205,112 in favor to 74,726 opposed. The 70-cent increase is on top of the existing 45-cent surcharge and is for 20 years. Starting in July 2017, a phone user will pay $1.15 surcharge to Kent County or about $13.80 per year with $8.40 per year going toward the 9-1-1 dispatch.


About half the money raised will go toward the public safety dispatch and a portion will be used to cover costs associated with countywide fire dispatch services.


In preparation of the surcharge possibly passing, LaJoye-Young said the county has been working on a contract with plans to join the Michigan Public Safety Communications System.


Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma
Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma

“This is more than a quick fix. This is an investment in our future, in the safety of our first responders, and the ability to respond quickly and efficiently to residents who call 9-1-1,” Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma said. “We can now provide communications towers and new radio equipment that will place all Kent County dispatchers and first responders on the Michigan Public Safety Communications System. This will improve our ability to communicate with most of the state’s 9-1-1 call-taking centers, including Michigan State Police, and Ottawa, Allegan, Ionia and Newaygo counties.”


The goal is to have the contract in place by the end of year, LaJoye-Young said, adding the next phase is the project management, which has a two-year window. This is where the real work begins as the county will need to change its frequency, requiring the purchase of communications towers and 800 MHz equipment. There will be some build-out for the power which will include reconstruction and construction of towers depending on whether those towers can hold the new equipment, LaJoye-Young said, adding that it is estimated the entire dispatch project should be completed in three years.


Besides the increase in the surcharge, residents probably will not feel much of an impact on police/fire services or even phone service.


“If they happen to live near a tower, they might see the outward signs of construction but that will be pretty low impact,” LaJoye-Young said. “Ideally, this will be seamless with residents experiencing no drop in service. They won’t realize a change but just the continuity of communication and improved communication for public safety that should increase our efficiency.”


Currently Kent County 9-1-1 dispatch operates on eight different radio systems, which hampers public safety efforts in some situations because emergency responders cannot communicate directly – even if they are working on the same incident. With the new technology, LaJoye-Young said officers involved in a specific situation, such as a traffic accident, or an event like Metro Cruise, will have direct communication abilities while regular calls are maintained on dedicated channels.


“I am delighted to see voters approve the dispatch,” said 12th District Kent County Commissioner Harold Mast, who represents the western portion Kentwood and the eastern portion of Wyoming. “This will definitely help in improving the way law enforcement communicates.”


“Voters in Wyoming and throughout Kent County overwhelmingly demonstrated their supported of the 911 dispatch public safety surcharge,” said Curtis Holt, director of the Kent County Dispatch Authority and Wyoming City Manager. “The increased surcharge will enhance public safety with an upgrade in technology, provide a sustainable countywide fire dispatch funding source and improve communication efficiency to make Wyoming and all of Kent County safer.”


The surcharge is a “user-based” fee directly charging devices that use 9-1-1 service. For every phone device a Kent County resident has — cell phone, air card, home internet with voice IP — the surcharge will be applied. LaJoye-Young recommends that residents look at their phone bill for the current Kent County surcharge of 45 cents to determine what their individual cost will be.