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Published: Thursday, 7/13/2006

Safety officers make case for replacement of 911 levy

Ask Lucas County Sheriff James Telb about the need for a county communications system and he'll bring up the 1992 crash of a cargo plane that killed three crewmen and a passenger near Toledo Express Airport.

Question Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell about the need, and he'll point to the Feb. 6 blaze that ravaged an apartment complex in Springfield Township and caused $2 million damage.

Both local emergencies required the response of multiple public safety agencies, they said. And at both events, the responders weren't able to communicate with one another.

Sheriff Telb and Chief Bell were among five public safety officials who made a presentation to the Lucas County Citizen Tax Levy Review Committee yesterday about a proposed 911 replacement levy.

The existing 0.7-mill levy, which raises about $5.5 million a year, expires in December.

The proposed replacement, which would take into account updated property values, would raise about $6.2 million a year to pay for an enhanced 911 system and maintenance on a county communication system.

If approved by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $21.44 a year.

Sheriff Telb and Chief Bell were joined by Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre, Oregon Police Chief Tom Gulch, and county Emergency Services Director Dennis Cole to make their case for the levy.

"Communication is an essential portion of what we do," Chief Bell said. "We can train people to the highest standards. But if we can't communicate, we won't go anywhere."

The levy is just one of the taxes being reviewed by the nine-member committee. The group is charged with reviewing each proposed levy and forwarding a recommendation to the county commissioners on whether the issue should be placed on the ballot.

Yesterday, the four tax levy committee members present peppered the men with questions concerning the longevity of the technology, how the system is to be maintained, and whether the money has been set aside to advertise for the levy.

Ardenia Jones-Terry, who is chairman of the committee, asked about the diversity of those employed in the 911 dispatch centers and whether they could speak foreign languages when needed.

The officials said they would report back on the diversity of dispatch centers after contacting individual jurisdictions. Chief Navarre said his department contracts with a service that provides translators when needed.

Mr. Cole explained that the new levy would provide operational, maintenance, and capital improvement funding for the radio system infrastructure, which is projected to be about $1.5 million a year.

He said the county would maintain the infrastructure and individual jurisdictions would buy radios.

The levy review committee is also considering a 10-year, 1-mill capital improvement levy for the Toledo Zoo, a 0.167-mill levy for COSI Toledo, and a five-year, 1.4-mill renewal for Lucas County Children Services. The panel meets again on July 19.

Collectively, if all are approved, the proposed levies would cost $94.74 annually for the owner of a home valued at $100,000.

That figure is not lost on committee members, who are charged with analyzing the need for the levies.

"We need to look at all these tax levies: What is the burden to the taxpayer?" Ms. Jones-Terry said. "We pass them individually. We pass them at different times, but we need to know what is the collective burden."

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