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County seeks funding for 911 systems

Douglas County is joining a statewide effort to persuade the governor and Wisconsin Legislature to provide funding to upgrade emergency 911 systems for the digital age using revenue generated by fees paid by telephone users.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, the police and fire protection fee is charged to consumers for each voice communications connection with an assigned telephone number including landlines, cellular phones and communication services provided by a VoIP connection.

In effect since Sept. 1, 2009, the fee was created to help emergency call centers implement new technology.

The Douglas County Board is urging the state to allocate $7 million from those fees annually to create grants help local governments modernize emergency 911 equipment to work with the state's planned emergency services IP network (ESInet).

Funding for the emergency network was included in the current state budget.

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert and Public Safety Committee Chairman Sam Pomush proposed consideration of the resolution at the request of Emergency Manager Keith Kesler as part of a statewide initiative to provide resources for emergency 911 systems. The initiative was launched by the Wisconsin Counties Association, Kesler said.

Kesler said Douglas County's 911 system was due for upgrades this year, but he suggested maintaining the system for another year to see what happens with ESInet and possible grant programs that could help with the cost.

The cost for refreshing equipment the 911 system can be around $300,000, said Kesler. He has overseen upgrading the county's 911 system three times over the years.

The last time Douglas County received a state grant was in 2009.

Then, a $348,000 state grant paid for a significant portion of the $384,000 cost for Douglas County to update its system to make it capable of bringing in wireless calls, Kesler said.

Since then, the County has received a 911 grant through the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 for $176,354 for an upgrade to the 911 system, but the state has not had any grant opportunities available, Kesler said.

"If the ESInet went into place tomorrow, which is the digital system, our system would be capable of accepting that information," Kesler said. "The last time we purchased equipment, we went to an IP-based digital system."

But that isn't the case for emergency 911 call centers statewide, many of which are still using analog systems, he said.

The resolution would take $7 million more in revenue generated by the police and fire protection fee, create a grant fund and use some of the money that was originally supposed to go 911 to help upgrade 911 systems, Kesler said.

In other business:

• The County Board adopted a resolution calling on the Legislature to close a property assessment loophole that has allowed several national chain stores to have their property values reduced based on the value of abandoned stores to reduce their property taxes, shifting the burden for the property tax levy to homeowners and small businesses.

• Adopted a resolution calling on the state child welfare system to increase funding and oversight for child protective services. Counties across the state are facing a crisis in providing child protection services, largely driven by drug and alcohol use. Addressing the crisis in Douglas County his year has the Health and Human Service Department about $1 million over budget this year.