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Huron County needs more than $4M for 911 upgrades

Brandon Addeo • Sep 28, 2019 at 3:00 PM

NORWALK — Huron County officials said they need at least $4 million to upgrade the county’s outdated 911 system, which has had nine outages in the past year-and-a-half.

Earlier this year, the county put a five-year, .725 mill levy on the November ballot for upgrades for the county’s 911 operation.

The levy would cost $25.38 each year, or $2.12 per month, for a home valued at $100,000 — bringing in about $862,100 each year.

Tacy Bond, 911 coordinator for the county’s emergency management agency, said some county residents were puzzled that the county was asking for a total of about $4.3 million over five years.

The county emergency management agency released a breakdown of their anticipated costs for the upgrades. Currently, between initial costs and annual operating costs, the county estimates it needs close to $4.1 million to complete its upgrade projects.

What the levy would pay for

The majority of what the levy pays for goes toward the installation of new equipment and software. Bond said about $3.6 million of funds brought in by the levy be used for projects including:

• Three new communications towers.

• Three new generators for the new towers.

• Twelve new repeaters, which receive and transmit radio signals.

• Three new microwave links, which “bounce” radio signals back and forth over longer distances.

• Upgraded radios and mobile computers for law enforcement.

• New monitors and workstations for dispatchers.

“All the things we’re trying to fix are 20-30 years old,” she said.

Even their computer software is out of date.

“Right now, Microsoft is not supporting anything prior to Windows 10,” Bond said. “We have to upgrade all of our computers to Windows 10.”

Once the initial installations are done, which would likely be in years one through three of the levy, the remaining levy money would be used to pay for operating costs, Bond said. She stressed the levy will not pay for any wages or personnel costs.

Why it’s needed

Bond said the county’s 911 system had nine outages in the last 18 months. When the system goes down, dispatchers can’t use GPS systems to pinpoint a caller’s location.

“You just get the voice,” she said during a presentation Tuesday at the Norwalk city council.

A proposed solution to this is creating a “redundant” 911 system with a neighboring county. What that means is if something causes the county’s 911 system to fail, 911 calls made in Huron County would get picked up by a neighboring county’s 911 center.

Bond said the state’s 911 funding, done through a 25-cent monthly charge on cell phone bills, isn’t enough to fund county 911 operations, and that it wouldn’t allow that money to be used for some of the projects they want to complete, like radio upgrades. Huron County gets about $128,000 each year from the 911 cell phone tax.

“If (the state) would raise the tax to $2.50, it would bring in $1.2 million per year,” Bond said. “Then we wouldn’t need a levy, per se.”

Bond said her agency also intends to pursue a grant from the state’s commerce department and the Ohio 911 Program Office for Next-Gen 911 funding. There’s going to $4.3 million in funding available, done through reimbursement grants of 60 percent of the cost of an eligible project.

But Bond noted the funding might not be approved for all the projects the county intends to pursue.

“Eighty-eight counties are applying for it, at the end of the day we might not get much of anything at all,” she said.

Huron County’s 911 system handed 14,491 calls last year, according to data from the Huron county commissioners.

Editor’s note: Norwalk Reflector reporter Cary Ashby contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Brandon Addeo at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @BrandonAddeo and follow the Register at Facebook.com/SanduskyRegister

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