PAW PAW — Van Buren County voters will see only one countywide issue on the Aug. 4 primary election ballot – a proposal to raise the monthly 911 surcharge from $1.92 to $3.
Tim McGee, 911 director for the county, told the county board of commissioners at a meeting two months ago that the money is needed to upgrade the emergency call system’s 1970s technology and to provide a backup in case the current dispatch center needs to be evacuated.
“We do not have a true backup center,” McGee told the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners in April, or a backup plan in case of a shutdown, as was illustrated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The current monthly surcharge is $1.92. It is comprised of the $1.17 state surcharge and a local, voter-approved, 75-cent surcharge.
“Any device that can access 911 is assessed the local surcharge per month,” McGee said.
If voters approve the $3 fee, the new local surcharge would be $1.83 per device, up from 75 cents, with the state surcharge remaining the same. The $3 fee is the maximum allowed under state law. McGee said some places operate their 911 systems with a millage or a combination of millage and surcharge. Van Buren County only charges the surcharge.
The increase would bring in about $750,000 more than now, totaling $2.1 million when pooled with state money.
The current 911 system has reliability, transmission and reception problems. To build a modern system would run up to $2.25 million, according to McGee, and would include upgrading central dispatch equipment and replacing three or four towers. The field equipment would not need to be replaced.
There are no contested races within the county board districts, or for county officials. There may be other local races or issues on residents’ ballots, depending on where they live.