Enhanced 911 on the November ballot

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Fayette County residents will decide in November whether Enhanced 911 service becomes available in this county.

The Fayette County Board voted unanimously last Thursday to put an Enhanced 911 referendum on the general election ballot.

County residents will vote on whether they are willing to pay $2.75 per month for each network connection for that service, which makes a large amount of information available to emergency responders at the time an emergency call is made.

Through the setup of the system, county residents are asked to provide their address, pertinent medical information about all family members and information about their property, such as the storage of hazardous materials.

All of that information comes up on the police and fire dispatchers computer screen as soon as the call is received.

Currently, the person making the emergency call must provide all of that pertinent information.

Now, a child knows to call 911 (in an emergency), said board Chairman Steve Knebel, but they are shook up, scared, and they cant provide an address or directions. With this (E911), all of that pops up on the (computer) screen.

Time, thats what this is all about, saving time and saving lives, said Knebel, who chaired the Enhanced 911 committee that recommended that the county board place the issue on the November ballot.

Knebel formed that committee after a Lockport-based company came to a county board meeting late last year to offer its assistance in setting up E911 service in the county.

In addition to Knebel, serving on that committee were county board members Darrell Schaal and John Daniels Jr., Fayette County Sheriff Aaron Lay, Vandalia Police Chief Larry Eason, Vandalia Fire Chief Merle Adermann and Amy Schaal of Fayette County Hospital.

The committee formed its recommendation to the county board after several meetings with the E911 coordinator in Jasper County, Knebel said. At those meetings, the group discussed numerous issues, including a monthly surcharge that would provide adequate funds for the startup and maintenance of an emergency phone system.

The committee initially leaned toward one E911 system for the county. It decided to go with two systems after hearing concerns from Vandalia officials.

We tried to keep the cost down where we could, Knebel told the board last Thursday. But we didnt want to underestimate anywhere.

By law, a county can lower its monthly surcharge at any time. It cannot, however, raise the surcharge; the monthly amount could not be increased without another referendum vote.

Once we get the equipment and get the system in place, we could lower it, Knebel said.

He explained that if the referendum passes, the county would begin collecting the surcharge right away. It would be several years before the system would be up and running, because of the time needed to accumulate funds for equipment and system setup.

Knebel explained that the monthly surcharge would be for each phone line (phone number). The charge would not be assessed for each extension off of a phone line.

While the placement of the issue on the ballot was approved unanimously, there was some displeasure expressed by board member Jeff Beckman.

Beckman said he doesnt like the fact that a business, for example, would have to pay the surcharge for each one of its lines. Its totally unfair, he said.

I dont understand why we always have to go back to the businesses, Beckman said, noting that state-mandated fees and other expenses make it difficult for business owners. He asked whether a business that has a large number of phone lines could negotiate a lower fee.

Knebel said that no exceptions can be made with the surcharge, and while he understands Beckmans concerns, he strongly supports the implementation of the service.

Personally, (I think) thats a cheap price to pay for security, Knebel said.

Fayette County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Steve Koehler said that Enhanced 911 service is currently available in 88 of Illinois 102 counties, and that three of the 14 counties that dont have the service are in the process of getting it online.

Koehler also said that he, like Knebel, believes there will be a day when the state mandates that every county have Enhanced 911 service. Once that mandate comes along, Koehler said, counties who dont have the service will lose total control of the cost to get it up and running.

Instead of spending $1 million or $2 million, youll spend $5 million or $6 million, Koehler said.

This will be the third time that county residents vote on an Enhanced 911 referendum.

A $1.25 monthly surcharge was rejected in 1991, and in 1995, a referendum with a $2.50 monthly surcharge was voted down.