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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

3-to-1 defeat of 911 levy won't derail $9M project

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The day after a levy calling for a telephone surcharge increase to support Monroe County's revamped emergency communications system was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin, county Administrator Charles Londo was in a foul mood.

The county's townships and municipalities had largely declined to support the measure, and it showed at the polls. Not a single precinct voted for the measure. Now the county has to come up with $3.3 million to pay off a loan the county took out for the $9 million project, which is expected to be completed this fall.

"I guess you can attribute it to the fine support we got from the municipalities," a sarcastic Mr. Londo said.

The county received a $6 million federal grant last year to join Michigan's statewide 800-mhz radio system and upgrade its VHF paging system for volunteer firefighters. But officials also wanted to build a $2.4 million 911 dispatch center and cover the cost of radio fees its municipalities must pay the state. Had the 911 initiative passed, the monthly phone surcharge would have gone from 80 cents to $2.40 a month and raised $2.3 million a year for five years.

The first victims of the defeat are the county's municipalities, which now must pony up $200

a year for every emergency radio they use. In the case of LaSalle Township, which operates 24 radios, that's $4,800 a year.

Supervisor Larry Rutledge, who also is on the county 911 board, isn't pleased with having to pay the money or the way the county explained to voters how the money from the increased surcharge would be spent.

"They had four different plans for the money. At first, a new central dispatch was not a part of it. There was a lot of confusion about it. You can't tell people four different plans and expect them to support it," he said.

Mr. Rutledge also was critical of the county's attempted move last year to lay off eight employees rather than take $1 million out of the general fund to save the jobs. The argument at the time, he said, was that the county wanted to keep the money in the fund in case the 911 initiative failed.

"Those were dedicated employees," Mr. Rutledge said.

Eventually, only one employee was laid off.

Mr. Londo was not pleased by Mr. Rutledge's comments. "Larry Rutledge needs to worry about running his township and not bother with the county's business," he said.

V. Lehr Roe, chairman of the county board of commissioners, pointed to the overwhelming victory for a senior citizens services measure by almost the same margin as the 911 levy defeat as a sign of who voted against the measure.

"I'm only guessing where a lot of the no votes came from," Mr. Roe said. "But seniors are pressed for money, and they didn't want any increased fees."

Mr. Roe said it's likely that seniors own fewer cell phones and would suffer a heavier burden by the levy. Cell phones are exempt from the surcharge.

Mr. Londo said the county would not place another initiative on the November ballot, but did not rule out another levy sometime next year.

Meanwhile, he said, the project will move forward. "The 911 center needs to be built. I'm sure we'll find a way."

Contact George J. Tanber at

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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