Dickinson OKs 911 surcharge hike

IRON MOUNTAIN – Dickinson County plans to increase its monthly telephone surcharge rate to $1.10 per device effective July 1 to help fund emergency 911 services. The current rate is 42 cents per month.

The increase was approved Monday by the county board in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Joe Stevens voted no, saying the county should go with a lower rate until the current 911 property tax millage expires.

Commissioners Ann Martin, John Degenaer Jr. and Barbara Kramer joined Chairman Henry Wender in supporting the new rate. They defended it as an appropriate user fee.

The increase comes after the county in September settled a five-year legal dispute with the Michigan Public Service Commission. The commission in 2008 lowered Dickinson’s surcharge from 70 cents per line to 42 cents, explained Pete Schlitt, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

A surcharge settlement was negotiated by the Grand Rapids law firm of Silver & Van Essen in a multi-county appeal against the commission. The agreement authorized a Dickinson County rate of 68 cents per device, but Silver & Van Essen recently advised that state law allows the county to assess both the 42-cent rate and the negotiated rate for a total of $1.10 per month.

Having lost nearly $500,000 in revenue as a result of the 2008 surcharge cut, the county is accepting that potentially controversial interpretation. It remains to be seen if there will be objections from the state.

The 911 surcharge applies to all communication service lines, including cell phones. There are nearly 27,000 such units in the county and the $1.10 surcharge is estimated to generate about $350,000 annually.

By setting the new rate 42 cents above the commission’s negotiated rate, the county will receive more than $130,000 in additional annual revenue, Stevens said.

“We asked the voters for all that help with 911 and now we’re going to hit them with another charge,” Stevens said.

Wender, however, said the county faces many budget challenges. “”I think it’s something we have to do,” he said of the surcharge increase.

In February 2013, with the county needing to replace its 911 console, voters approved a three-year millage levy of up to 0.4 mills for the dispatch system. That levy generates about $385,000 annually.

In 2014, about $175,000 of the 911 millage will go to payments on a $525,000 loan secured for the 911 upgrade. The rest is offsetting the general fund allocation for the 911 budget.

The 2014 general fund appropriation for 911 is projected at $50,617, a decrease of $215,250 from 2013. The county is obligated for loan payments of about $180,000 in both 2015 and 2016.

Kramer pointed out that the county is waiving any retroactive 911 surcharge collections, which represents a significant savings for users.

Schlitt suggested the county might now establish a 911 equipment replacement fund. The 911 upgrade was completed in December.

In other action Monday, the county board:

– Heard Equalization Director Sid Bray report that it appears the county’s property tax base will be flat in 2014, as any rise in valuation is being offset by losses in other areas. In presenting the 2014 Equalization Report, Bray summarized nearly $13 million in reductions, including $5.4 million from changes in the personal property tax law; $3.2 million in exemptions for disabled veterans; and $4 million in reduced assessments on pipeline property owned by Great Lakes Gas Transmission. The county’s total equalized valuation in 2014 is $1.112 billion, which is down about $710,000 from a year ago, a reduction of 0.06 percent.

– Reappointed David Brisson of Breitung Township and Ron Milbrath of Vulcan to three-year terms on the Dickinson County Road Commission. Richard Wales of Breitung Township also applied.

– In a 4-1 vote, approved a request from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to obtain a long-term working agreement for use of the Felch railroad grade as a snowmobile/off-road vehicle recreational trail. The DNR wants to replace the Foster City bridge located on the grade with grant funding. The county owns the grade on both sides of the bridge and the road commission owns the bridge itself. The DNR, which has already reached an agreement with the road commission, is seeking a 20-year easement. Degenaer voted no, saying he wants more details before proceeding.

– Heard Controller Nicole Frost report that heat, water, and electrical service have all been restored at the Fontana Terminal building at Ford Airport, following a previously reported April 10 flooding incident in the mechanical room. The airport is fully operational, although a damage assessment is ongoing. The loss, which is covered by property insurance, could total in the range of $500,000.

– Approved a request from Kubick Aviation to enter into a new airport lease agreement with Valley Med Flight, which is acquiring Kubick’s former hangar at Ford Airport. Kubick has acquired Superior Aviation and is moving into Superior’s former airport facilities. The board also approved a request from John DeAmicis to terminate his land lease at the airport and enter into a new land lease with Ron Knutson, who is purchasing that hangar.

– Accepted the low bid of $3,300 from Morin Inc. of Niagara, Wis., for leaf pickup at Lake Antoine Park. The road commission submitted a bid of $4,122.

– Approved a request from Anytime Fitness of Iron Mountain to hold a race and festival at Lake Antoine Park on Saturday, June 7, and authorized Northern Michigan University Public Safety to conduct a precision driving course at Ford Airport on Friday, June 27. Insurance and indemnification agreements will be required.

– Heard Martin and Stevens compliment Friend of the Court Heidi Van Slooten for her office being ranked first in the Upper Peninsula and ninth in the state for child support collections efficiency.

– Approved a request from County Clerk-Register of Deeds Dolly Cook to institute an $18 fee for re-certification of birth records sent to the Social Security Administration. This is also what the state charges Social Security for the service, Cook explained.

– Reappointed Dennis Baldinelli of Kingsford and Jeff Iverson of Breitung Township to three-year terms on the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Five vacancies on the panel remain.

Jim Anderson’s email address is janderson@ironmountaindailynews.com.