Back to square one for Kalamazoo Co. dispatch funding

911 dispatchers. (File)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Voters in Kalamazoo County loudly said no last week to a surcharge that would have funded the consolidation of 911 communication for all of its emergency services.

Thursday, officials in Kalamazoo County were deciding what to do next.

Independent studies of Kalamazoo County’s twin tragedies from last year — the February shooting spree and fatal cycling crash in June — agreed on at least one thing: Kalamazoo County’s emergency services need better coordination.

But last week, Kalamazoo County citizens overwhelmingly voted against increasing the 911 surcharge.  It would have raised an additional $6 million per year to pay for consolidated dispatch of all the county’s emergency services.

Last year, Kalamazoo County began assessing a fee of 42 cents per line per month to pay for consolidated dispatch, which is set to begin in 2018. However, there wasn’t enough money to cover the cost of the program.

“People were not clear of what the ask was. A lot of people felt that this was a referendum on whether or not we should consolidate,” said Portage City Council Member Claudette Reid.

Voters last week were asked to raise the fee to $2.30 per line, which would have raised an additional $6 million per year.

Sixty-eight percent of voters rejected the measure while 32 percent said yes, a difference of more than 7,000 votes. It was also opposed by police unions.

Thursday, the committee in charge of the consolidation met to discuss the future.

“Reach out to our citizens to find out what it is, what they need to know more of, what it is we can do more, what it is that we can do next,” said Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller.

Michigan State Police, the Kalamazoo County sheriff, police and officials from other municipalities and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell attended via cellphone. Many felt voters were not informed.

“Educationally-wise, we really didn’t have a solid message,” said Democratic Kalamazoo County Commissioner Michael Seals. “It didn’t matter whether they were republican or democrat, once they understood what it was that we were asking, they were in favor of it.”

Leaders say they need to get citizens involved whether through surveys, open houses or citizen commissions.

The committee says the consolidation goes on regardless of last week’s vote and they are considering options that include going back to voters.

When they meet again next month, they will decide what to do next to fund the consolidation.