Mich. puts $500K into controversial 911 merger

Should the controversial merger go forward, the grant funds will help ease the cost of moving Grand Rapids dispatchers into the county dispatch center

By Michael Kransz
The Grand Rapids Press

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The state has granted $500,000 to the proposed merger of 911 services in Grand Rapids and Kent County.

Should the controversial merger go forward, the grant funds will help ease the cost of moving Grand Rapids dispatchers into the county dispatch center, said Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt.

The funds announced Friday afternoon by the Michigan Department of Treasury are substantially less than what Kent County was seeking.

According to grant proposal, the county wanted $3.2 million from the state.

"I think it will help, for sure, but it's not everything that we wanted," Britt said. "I'm not yet a point where I know if this is going to do it for us."

The county sought the $3.2 million to pay for building expansion, facility costs, equipment transfer, personnel and backup operations and maintenance, according to the proposal.

County and city officials are still hammering out details on the proposed dispatch merger.

Britt said he's not sure yet what would happen to the grant money should the merger stall.

The consolidation is expected to improve efficiency and potentially save around $700,000 every year, city officials previously said.

The most vocal opposition to the merger has come from members of the Grand Rapids Police Department.

"If you can't ensure equal service level, which you can't do, you're potentially messing with the lives of almost 300 officers in Grand Rapids, as well as the firefighters and almost 200,000 residents," Grand Rapids Police Capt. Geoffrey Collard previously said.

"The dispatch center is our initial clearing house for all calls for public safety; it's the lifeline of our officers and firefighters ... Our ultimate concern is residents won't be served as they expect."

Those in support of at least furthering the discussion, including Grand Rapids Interim City Manager Eric DeLong and Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma, argue that agencies across the nation have proven countywide dispatch centers are cost-effective and don't compromise public safety.

In the event of a consolidation, all city dispatch staff will be offered jobs at the county, potentially with incentives. The countywide center is also expected to add new positions.

Grand Rapids is the only municipality in Kent County which has a separate dispatch center. In 2016, Wyoming reached an agreement with the county, leaving only Grand Rapids outside the county's dispatch region.

Talks of a dispatch merger between the county and city have been on and off over the years.

Discussions picked back up last year between Stelma, DeLong and former City Manager Greg Sundstrom. City police and fire officials and the city commissioners were informed of the talks in February 2018.

The delayed involvement of city first responders and dispatchers drew criticism.

It will be a couple weeks before merger talks resume, Britt said.

Copyright 2018 The Grand Rapids Press

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