Wednesday, June 8, 2016 || By Michael Romain
A new law that went into effect in January requires municipalities with populations of less than 25,000 to consolidate their 911 dispatch systems. The law also revokes the authority of local governments to collect surcharges from telecommunications and wireless carriers while enacting a uniform statewide surcharge.
That means that Maywood, with a population of around 24,000 residents, would be required to consolidate its services with a nearby municipality unless the state grants the village exemption through a waiver process. According to Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley, the village applied for that waiver earlier this month and is waiting to hear back from the state.
Currently, an 87-cent surcharge is tacked onto residents’ cellphone bills to help pay for the village’s dispatch services, Talley said. Starting in 2022, half of that surcharge will go to help pay for a statewide 911 system.
Village attorney Michael Jurusik said Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration “is all about consolidating these multiple municipal governments, so they looked at all these public safety access points, or PCAPs. These are your dispatch centers. They said, it’s too many of these things out there; let’s get everybody to consolidate.”
Jurusik also noted that part of the state’s motivation for the bill was the lack of quality emergency dispatch systems in rural areas largely concentrated downstate.
“The idea behind the legislation was to get everybody to a basic floor,” he said. “Most towns in metro Chicago are at the ceiling with good technology and good 911 systems; but other parts [like rural areas and much of downstate] didn’t have any 911 [dispatch centers].”
But to achieve that parity, some urban areas like Maywood and Broadview may have to suffer. The law isn’t welcomed by government officials in either town.
“This is like a lose-lose situation,” Talley said at a May 11 board meeting during which the issue was discussed. “In my opinion, it was a bad decision in Springfield that nobody really thought through [and] it’s being forced upon us.”
Broadview Mayor Sherman Jones said that his village, which operates its own dispatch center as well, applied for the same waiver in order to get out of having to consolidate. Both he and Talley said that no cost-savings will be realized from the move. Broadview’s population is just under 8,000.
“My gut opinion is that we’re not going to realize any cost savings, because the call volume won’t change,” said Jones during a recent phone interview. “It’s just easier for us to control our own 911 system.”
If Broadview’s and Maywood’s waivers aren’t approved by the state, the two neighboring villages may be forced bedfellows when it comes to emergency dispatch. While each town operates its own dispatch center, they both utilize the North East King County Regional Public Safety Communication Agency, or NORCOM, for their emergency communications technology.
“We may end up being with Maywood, because other local municipalities are already consolidated,” Jones said.
If it comes to that, Jones said, the two villages would have to nail down “a lot moving parts,” such as which village will host the consolidated dispatch center. Either Maywood would need to move its eight dispatch employees (who currently work in a room within the Fifth Avenue police station) to Broadview or Broadview would have to move its six dispatch employees to Maywood.
In light of the Maywood police department’s flooding problems, Jones said, he thinks Broadview’s dispatch center would be a much safer choice.
“Our [facility] is in much better condition,” he said. “Even towns like Westchester use our facility when major flooding and storms hit.”
Jurusik said, if consolidation does become an only option, the village could realize cost-savings if a third municipality were to come on board with the move.
“It works if, for instance, we do a three-party agreement and Maywood is the entity with all the dispatchers and enough capacity over in its current room, which would be built out,” Jurusik said.
“You operate that and have two other towns helping to pay for the operation. If we go from, say, eight to 12 people because we’re covering three towns, we could share those costs. On a per capita basis, we’ll pay more, because our larger population would mean we’d have a few more heads to finance, but we’ll still have two other towns [paying in].”
Jones also brought up another potential headache if Maywood and Broadview are forced to consolidate: Which town will receive the surcharge revenues?
“Somebody’s going to have to be the custodian of the funds from the 911 system,” Jones said.
Until the state’s decision on those waivers returns, however, all of these matters are still up in the air, he insisted.
In the meantime, Talley said, Maywood is making preparations to consolidate — just in case it comes to that.
He said village staff will prepare an evaluation of a potential move to combine with another municipality, most probably Broadview. That report could be available in the coming months, depending on the outcome of the waiver process. VFP
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