County grants 911 funding to ambulance
MANISTIQUE – A local ambulance service has acquired more than $17,500 from the Schoolcraft County 911 fund to be reimbursed for radio equipment. The decision to allow the reimbursement was made during a recent meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners.
The 911 fund is comprised of revenue from a 911 surcharge found on the phone bill of each Michigan resident. Currently, the state charges .19 cents for the surcharge, while Schoolcraft County collects .40 cents of its own.
Michigan’s Public Act 164 of 2007 stipulates that 82.5 percent of the state surcharge fund be distributed quarterly among the counties which have a final 911 plan in place, such as Schoolcraft.
According to Schoolcraft County Sheriff and 911 Advisory Committee Chairperson W. John Norrington, the request for the purchase of the radio equipment first came before the committee in March. At that time, Tracy Keskimaki, co-owner of Rapid Response One, Inc., a private Manistique business, requested 911 funds to purchase $17,563 worth of mobile (vehicle-mounted) and handheld (portable) radios for his service.
During that meeting, Norrington said the committee explained to Keskimaki that its current focus was on upgrading the entire communication system within the county.
“Communications in the county are not the best,” Norrington explained during a recent interview with the Pioneer Tribune. “There are zones or areas within the county where our radios do not work correctly or are known as dead zones.”
To remedy this, he said the committee received approval from the county board to look into purchasing radio repeaters (to extend the range of two-way radios) and a radio tower to place on or near the sheriff’s department. The cost of this project, Norrington explained, is still unknown, and the committee is currently working to obtain a final cost estimate.
In addition, he noted the committee will also be looking for price quotes to re-outfit many of the county’s township fire department trucks with radios. In recent years, Norrington said the “rebanding” of public safety radio bands to enhance the clarity has, with the exception of 800 MHz radios, reduced the capability of older radios.
“A lot of the emergency units in the county do have the mobile 800 MHz radios – the police and ambulance units – but they are not on the fire equipment trucks that we need,” he explained.
Due to the cost of upgrading county communication, Norrington said the committee asked Keskimaki, at the time of his request, to allow them to obtain the cost estimates needed before distributing 911 funds for other purposes.
“We wanted to get the county communications correct the first time and then address other situations,” he explained.
According to County Commissioner Craig Reiter, despite the 911 committee’s suggestion, representatives from Rapid Response One attended the Aug. 14 meeting of the county board to request reimbursement from 911 funds for their radio equipment purchases.
“Although the law does allow 911 funds to be spent on private companies, it is not mandatory,” Reiter explained. “The 911 board has been working on correcting the communication problem in our county for the last two years … the 911 board told Rapid Response (One) that they would look at their request after they had corrected the other issues the county had and see what funds were available.
However, Rapid Response then bypassed the 911 board and went directly to the county board for payment,” he continued.
The county board, with the exception of a “no” vote from Reiter and the absence of Commissioner Jerry Zellar, approved the ambulance service’s request for reimbursement.
Norrington explained the committee was reminded that it was merely an “advisory” board and not an authority, meaning the ultimate decision on any funding over $200 is at the county board’s discretion. He also noted that after the March 911 committee meeting, Keskimaki had contacted Harriet Miller-Brown, the state’s 911 administrator, who then wrote to the committee to explain that it is legal for 911 funds to be used for private businesses as long as it meets certain criteria.
“That doesn’t mean they must be used,” he added.
Regardless of the recent decision, Norrington said the 911 committee is moving ahead with their county-wide communication upgrades and supports all emergency services.
“The (911) money is there for everyone to use, that’s what the funds are for, to make sure we have clear communication for all emergency services in the county, and to make sure we can get all the important services that need to be there to the call,” he said. “We’re supposed to be working in-tune with each other.”