Wednesday, September 29, 2010

911 Dispatch System Costs, Hiring Freeze, 911 Dispatch Center Ready for Construction

The County Board of Commissioners met last night. While there were several significant issues on the agenda, only one turned out to be controversial.

We considered a resolution that would extend the contract with the company that maintains the county emergency 911 dispatch system. As faithful readers of this blog may recall, several years ago the county approved a new emergency dispatch 911 system that was paid for with 911 millage dollars. The system went from an inefficient analog system to what was supposed to be a much better digital system. We looked at various proposals and, in the end, chose M/A Com to install and maintain the system. Over the course of that contract, many problems arose. There were significant problems with 911 dispatch calls dropped in the southwest part of Lansing, resulting in police officers having to use cell phones instead of radios and in increased staffing needed. The company technically met the qualifications of the contract, and the Board of Commissioners was very upset that M/A Com would not fix the problem without a significant purchase from the county. In the end, the county paid but also received discounted maintenance.

Fast forward to last night. The Board considered a resolution that would extend the maintenance contract with Harris (which was formerly M/A Com). The contract originally proposed by Harris called for a 7% increase in the first year and 3% increases in years two through five. The company’s argument was that they had more equipment to maintain because of the problems that we needed to fix in southwest Lansing. County staff told the company that this amount was too high, and Harris agreed to lower this to 5% then 3% for the balance (for a total of about $1.5 million over 5 years). When this came before the Board in Finance last week, the committee still thought that was too high but the company was only willing to discount this another $15,000.

When it came before the Board last night, I strenuously objected to this amount. The County has had $7-8 million dollar deficits and our tax collections have been going down. We have questioned every vendor about why we should be paying 3% or more when inflation is not at that amount and County revenues are not going up at that rate. I reminded commissioners that Harris received increases of 5.5% over the last two years as part of the current contract, and expressed opposition to the resolution before us. Several Commissioners agreed and we had a good discussion and debate about what we could do to reduce this amount.

During debate staff alerted us that the contract ends on Friday, and if we don’t extend it we would have no one to service the contract for 911 dispatch. That made many of us very mad because it seemed as if we were being backed into a corner and would have to approve this contract. I proposed a shorter renewal time so we could work out a new rate with the company, but logistically that was not possible. I then worked with Commissioner Grebner to craft language that creates a 90-day termination clause, and language that instructs staff to get a better rate from the company. If the company refuses to provide a better rate, we have instructed staff to start a bid process to ask other companies for competitive prices to maintain the system. This passed unanimously. So the county agreed to the contact for now, but will look at others who can provide this service and will change systems if Harris doesn’t come down with the rates. Even though the system now seems to be working, I am again very disappointed in this company and expect that we will revisit this again soon.

In other action, the Board took steps to close our budget gap for next year (2011 calendar year) by passing a hiring freeze. The county currently has a hiring freeze for all positions supported by the general fund. The resolution passed last night will extend that through December 2011, and will include all county positions. Department Heads will be able to request waivers to the hiring freeze when necessary from the County Services Committee. The Controller/Administrator will also have authority to exempt positions from the hiring freeze in cases where positions are funded primarily from non-general fund sources. This resolution will minimize the affect of anticipated position reductions in 2011 and years after, and will free up more county positions for employees that could be laid off. It would also provide more vacant positions to be evaluated for additional permanent position reductions.

The Board also last night passed the final resolution needed to get the new 911 dispatch started for construction by authorizing the Building Authority to contract with the Architect/Engineering (A/E) and Construction Management (CM) Firms to begin the design process for the Ingham County Consolidated 911 Dispatch Center. We also approved $500,000 from 911 Funds for preliminary costs associated with this project. As previously reported, the Ingham County Consolidated 911 Dispatch Center site has been approved to be located on County owned land just west of the CMH property on Jolly Road in Lansing. We expect the project to cost about $5.2 million ($4,000,000 for the building and $1.2 Million to equip the facility and establish a contingency fund). We have also worked out all the legacy cost agreements with Lansing and East Lansing, so it seems that we are now ready to finalize constructions costs through our PLA policy and begin construction. Yay!

Tonight the Finance Committee meets and will finalize the budget to be presented to the Board of Commissioners. I will report on in a future blog when the budget is considered by the full Board. I also have two other committees meeting next week. October is shaping up to be a busy month (and that doesn’t include the election coming up!).

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