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County makes second try at 911 levy

Champaign County voters overwhelmingly rejected plan last year.

Champaign County officials will ask voters to approve a 0.5-mill levy to fund the 911 dispatch center this fall, although voters handily defeated an attempt to pass the issue last November.

Craig Evans, director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, thinks ballot language may have confused voters last November. The ballot’s language never specifically mentioned 911 on the ballot, for example, and Evans said it may have been confusing. By making it clear how the revenue would be used, Evans said he’s hopeful voters will give the issue a closer look this fall.

If approved, the levy would generate about $367,000 annually to help provide funding to the county’s 911 dispatch center at the county office complex on U.S. 68. The money would be used to help pay for maintaining technology, training and helping cover salaries and other expenses for dispatch center. The 911 center’s responsibilities include answering emergency calls and dispatching firefighters, law enforcement and medical personnel, among other duties.

If approved, the levy would cost about $15.30 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Despite the ballot language, some voters said for them, it’s a matter of choosing which levies they can afford, and how many. Evon Alexander, a Champaign County resident who voted in favor of the levy last fall, said she will likely do so again this year. She said she feels like 911 center provides an important service, but she said it’s hard for voters on a fixed income to pay for the various services that seems to appear on the ballot each year.

“I just don’t think there’s enough money to go around,” Alexander said.

When the initial levy to fund the 911 center was put in place, it was expected to generate more than $700,000 a year, but that has never been the case. For most of its existence, the center has been using a carryover balance to cover the shortfall.

“We’ve been able to survive from the carryover,” Evans said. “Really, that’s helped us survive 7 years because we did have that.”

Cutting staff would be a last resort for the county. When the levy failed last fall, Evans said training for staff members was cut with the exception of emergency medical dispatching, which allows dispatchers to provide basic medical assistance to victims over the phone until first responders arrive on the scene.

If the levy fails this year, one possibility is cutting the CodeRED Emergency Notification System, which automatically alerts residents during emergency situations including evacuation notices and missing child reports.

That is separate from a similar system that alerts residents to possible severe weather. That system would not be affected by any cuts.

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