Kent County delays dispatch consolidation

Funding uncertainties may delay it a year or two, according to the county administrator.

July 24, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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The executive committee of the Kent County Board of Commissioners has tabled a proposal from the Kent County Dispatch Authority to pursue a fully consolidated county-wide organization for taking 911 calls and dispatching first responders.

Curtis Holt, chair of the KCDA and city manager of Wyoming, said in a July 6 letter to Kent County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio that the KCDA wants the county to amend its 911 service plan “to designate the KCDA as the sole primary public safety answering point. This will allow the KCDA to proceed with the necessary authority to implement a fully consolidated dispatch system.”

Holt said the dispatch authority “believes it has the necessary expertise on its board and committees to successfully manage a fully consolidated 911 call-taking and public safety dispatch service.”

The KCDA was formed in 2007 by the major cities of Kent County in collaboration with Kent County government. Up to then there were nine 911 call centers around the county, with a lower rate of efficiency. There were also problems in quickly transferring 911 calls to the right agency, and some departments had emergency radios that could not communicate with first responders in other communities. To some extent, there are still some remaining problems with communication technologies between the various public safety departments, Holt said in May.

Today, under the KCDA, there are two Primary Service Answering Points in Kent County: One handles emergencies in Grand Rapids and Wyoming, and the other is the Sheriff’s Department PSAP, covering the rest of Kent County.

Kent County established a 45-cent surcharge on every 911 call to help fund emergency dispatching because the technology costs are particularly high, due to constant improvements making old technology obsolete. The state of Michigan also levies a surcharge of 19 cents on every 911 call, with those funds shared by dispatch centers around the state.

Holt told the county board previously the surcharges are “a decreasing source” of funding and were down 9 percent last year. The KCDA, he noted, has purchased “an enormous amount of technology.”

According to Holt, the two dispatch centers are efficiently operated, handling 911 calls and dispatching with a higher quality and consistency that results in quicker and more assured emergency response.

“Funding limitations continue to delay efforts to make our public safety and emergency services fully interoperable. But the KCDA believes further call-taking and dispatching improvements are possible,” he stated in his letter.

He said the KCDA has “the necessary representation on its Administrative Policy Board to create a fair and impartial funding formula for all Kent County governmental units that use and rely” on the 911 system.

Delabbio told the county Executive Committee that actual total operational cost of a fully consolidated system isn’t known yet and the sources of funding, which may include a millage, have not been determined, either. He also noted two local governments, Bowne and Cannon townships, have not yet officially agreed to join a county-wide fully consolidated service.

Full consolidation “may be a step we take in a year or two,” said Delabbio.

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