Fort Wayne and Allen County’s new $17 million 911 system upgrade may also require a new phone system – an extra $1 million cost that left some city and county council members saying they felt blindsided.
The Consolidated Communications Partnership is considering a contract between the city and county that would include a $7.8 million spending plan for joint 911 services in 2013, an increase of more than $1 million over previous budgets.
The partnership’s proposed budget would include $1 million for new 911 call center equipment, which is separate from an upcoming $17 million upgrade of the radio system used by police, firefighters and dispatchers. Sheriff Ken Fries this week will ask County Council, which had set aside $900,000 for 911 operations, for an extra $600,000 on behalf of the 911 board.
“I don’t know if it’s needed, honestly, or if it’s just a wish-list thing,” County Councilman Darren Vogt said. “Million-dollar checks don’t grow on trees,”
City-county 911 Director Tim Lee said the current phone system has surpassed its normal lifespan, making replacement parts and maintenance scarcer and more costly. Upkeep of the current system can cost up to $250,000 a year, he said.
But Vogt and City Council President Tom Smith each said he had not heard any talk of the extra costs until Tuesday. While the county’s budget process is under way, the city will not likely start discussions until September.
“I think this is going to be received with a lot of questions,” Smith said. “I’m not saying it’s not a legitimate need, but I don’t know where the money is going to come from.”
Of the proposed $7.8 million budget, 911 user fees distributed by the state would pay for about $2.3 million, Lee said. Of the remaining costs, the city would pay an 80 percent share for operations, with the $1 million phone upgrades and other equipment possibly split between the city and county, he said.
Lee said a lack of communication may have led council members to believe a new phone system would be included in the $17 million 911 system overhaul, which includes new radio towers and hundreds of new Motorola radios.
The city and county also must find a new space for the 911 dispatch center, which is currently housed in the basement level of the Ed Rousseau Centre – formerly known as the City-County Building – but will need almost twice as much space.
County attorney John Feighner said a search committee is in “serious” talks regarding several possible locations for the call center and could sign a lease within two or three weeks. Keeping the center in the Rousseau Centre would require up to $800,000 in renovations.
The $7.8 million draft budget includes $100,000 to lease a space, though Lee said the actual cost could be less.