On the November ballot for Eaton County residents will be the proposal for a surcharge of up to $1.75 a month on all phone lines or devices capable of calling 9-1-1 in Eaton County. The purpose of the surcharge is to cover the cost of new radio systems for all emergency responders.
Presentations about the ballot item were given to at least two city councils in Eaton County Monday, Oct. 23. Eaton County’s Central Dispatch director, Michael Armitage, gave a presentation before the Charlotte City Council, and deputy director, Lara O’Brien, presented to the Eaton Rapids City Council.
The emergency radio system used for all of Eaton County’s emergency responders is well out of date. The system is more than 40 years old and has a number of weaknesses that are hampering responders’ ability to perform their jobs effectively. Radios connected to the system are known to lose reception in a variety of buildings, there are recurring problems with frequency overlap and interference between Eaton and Ingham Counties and even Chicago, and it is far easier for citizens to tap into the radio frequencies of emergency responders. According to O’Brien, replacement parts for the current system will no longer be in production after 2018. The list of issues with the decades old system goes on.
Counties across the state have been moving to updated, digital radio systems that almost completely eliminate problems of interference and loss of reception. The move is part of national compliance and all agencies are expected to be on the updated systems by 2021.
According to Armitage, a radio work group was started two years ago to examine some of the problems emergency responders have had with the radios. The system the work group decided would be most effective for Eaton County’s needs is the MPSCS. The new radio system will also be able to use already existing radio towers in the county, although two more towers will be built if the proposal is voted in. The upkeep of the MPSCS infrastructure will also be maintained by the state. The new radio system also includes new technologies like GPS to track radio users, and emergency call buttons in case an emergency responder is unable to talk.
Other agencies outside the county will also be able to use the system, and vice versa. Likewise, if one county’s communications go down, another county will be able to dispatch the calls. This kind of county and agency interconnectedness was previously not possible with older radio systems.
Charlotte Police Chief Lisa Sherman was available for comment and noted the most important tool she has while she’s on duty is not her firearm, but her radio. She commented that it was time for the change.
“The current system is ready to collapse,” said Kent Austin, chair of the public safety committee for the Eaton County Board of Commissioners.
The upgrade to would cost an estimated $12.8 million, and is expected to be paid off in 10 years if the surcharge proposal passes. Armitage and O’Brien clearly outlined the restrictions of the surcharge in their presentations. Funds from the 911 surcharge can only be used for the radio system upgrade, and are not part of the general fund. There is also a cap, so the charge cannot rise past $1.75, but can only be voted to decrease with each year after its approval.
For more information, readers are encouraged to contact Eaton County Central Dispatch by calling (517) 543-3510.