HILLSDALE COUNTY — Hillsdale County is unlikely to see any state aid sought to upgrade its outdated VHF emergency telecommunications network to the state’s 800 MHz radio network.
After a millage proposal failed at the ballot box Aug. 2, the Hillsdale County Board of Commissioners began lobbying Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s (R-Clarklake) and Rep. Andy Fink’s (R-Adams Township) respective offices seeking state funding for the upgrades.
Commissioner Brad Benzing, the commissioner’s public safety committee chairman, said Tuesday morning he had spoken with Fink briefly on Monday.
“He was not particularly optimistic we would see any funding,” Benzing said.
Estimates to upgrade the outdated VHF system with sporadic and intermittent service reached just over $12 million when the commissioners formed a subcommittee to explore the issue, but Benzing said Tuesday, that may not be the only issue.
The county currently has two telecommunications towers nearing the end of service and in need of replacement.
A recent estimate to replace the failing Camden tower came in just over $760,000 to replace.
Benzing said that even if the board pulled the maximum 911 surcharge on all phones in the county at $3 per month, revenues would only increase by $170,000 a year meaning it would take approximately five years to replace the Camden tower.
A server at 911 also needs to be replaced, but if other capital improvements are needed, it could lead to further complications.
“We’re actually going to struggle to maintain the system we have now in the future,” Benzing — a firefighter and emergency medical technician by trade — said.
“We simply do not have the revenue without either an earmark of appropriation from the state or at some future point the voters approving some form of dedicated funding.”
The tower in Osseo also needs to be replaced and if the county ever did switch to the 800 MHz frequency, an additional tower would need to be built.
“There just are not many options which is the same conclusion our finance subcommittee came to and why they recommended going to the voters so that we could bond for the project and pay it back with the millage income,” Benzing said in an earlier interview.
The Hillsdale County Board of Commissioners began looking into upgrading the outdated system county wide earlier this year and opted to take a nearly $10 million bond proposal to the voters Aug. 2 which failed.
“As a firefighter and AEMT, as well as the Public Safety Chair, I am disappointed in the outcome,” Benzing said of the millages failure. “We have been discussing adopting 800 MHz radios since at least 2008, so that makes 14 years at a minimum.”
The Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office utilized state and federal funding to make the transition already and a number of fire departments and EMS agencies along the county’s eastern border with Lenawee County have already transitioned.
The commissioners discussed using part of the $8.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding they received earlier this year towards the project, but a majority of that funding has now been earmarked for capital improvements of the county’s buildings.
An estimate for repairs to the historic courthouses roof and dome structure including its bell tower came in around $5 million, Commissioner Doug Ingles reported in a previous interview.
— Corey Murray is a staff writer for The Hillsdale Daily News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter: @cmurrayHDN.
This article originally appeared on Hillsdale Daily News: State funding unlikely for 911 radio upgrades in Hillsdale County