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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2004

Monroe County to ask voters for communication system funds

MONROE - The Monroe County Commission decided last night to ask voters to help pay for a new emergency communications system for the county after the commissioners agreed to reduce the amount of a previously proposed telephone surcharge.

As a result of the decision, voters in the August primary will be asked to pay $1.60 a month per telephone line for five years. A yes vote will enable the county to pay off a $3.3 million loan it borrowed for its share of the $9.3 million project.

In 2002, county commissioners voted to join the state-owned communications system used by the Michigan State Police. It is considered a significant improvement over the county's 50-year-old system. In September, the commissioners voted to work with Motorola to enhance the state's 800 megahertz emergency radio system that would help it function everywhere in the county.

The following month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the county a $6 million grant as part of the country's homeland security program. Monroe County was the state's only applicant.

The county, which has one year to upgrade its system, is five months into the project.

At its last meeting, on March 9, the commissioners tabled a motion to ask the voters to pay a telephone-line surcharge that could reach 16 percent. Most of the commissioners were uncomfortable with that figure.

Pearl Albert-Green, noting a stagnant economy, said the recent resounding defeat of a school bond issue was an indication that voters were in no mood to approve any significant surcharges or tax increases. Last night, Ms. Albert-Green said she was satisfied with the new figure.

Although gaining voter approval won't be easy, county administrator Charles Londo said, residents are gaining a first-class system that will make a difference in their lives.

Commissioner Randy Ansel, the lone dissenter, said he thought the surcharge was too steep and did not want to take the issue to the voters. Residents currently pay an 80 cents-per-month telephone line surcharge for the county's 911 and central dispatch services.

In other business, the commission approved placing a renewal of a levy supporting the county's senior citizens programs on the August ballot. The levy, in effect since 1980 and good for four years, is up to 0.5 mills and costs homeowners from $50 to $75 a year, on average.

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