DDA Director Michael Burns proposed an eight-year lease contract for dispatch equipment for $40,000 a year, totaling $320,000, at Tuesday's DDA meeting.
“We found a couple ways to fit it into the budget,” Burns said.
One way comes from a shift in Burns’ own salary. The DDA currently pays 75 percent, while the Local Development Finance Authority pays 25 percent. That percentage would switch to 50-50 under the proposal, freeing up $20,000 in DDA dollars.
Another source for funds comes from the $100,000 budgeted for upgrades to the Fenton gazebo in Millpond Park, which Burns said won't all be used, freeing up another $20,000 to help fund the dispatch equipment.
The money would be used to purchase equipment including software, hardware, room upgrades, repairs, a server and surveillance tools needed to replace the police station's outdated equipment.
The city has been considering joining the Genesee County dispatch system or joining forces with other nearby municipalities to save money. The city has cut expenses by $935,000 since 2008 and is facing another $490,000 deficit in the coming fiscal year because of declining property taxes and statutory revenues.
The Fenton City Council will decide the fate of the dispatch at its April 30 budget work session.
"We have looked at every angle we can possibly think of," said Fenton Mayor Sue Osborn, who also serves on the DDA board. "It’s been really beneficial to us to have that dispatch center and that ambulance service."
One reason Burns said he has proposed to help the police is the benefit the department provides to the businesses in the DDA area. The Fenton Police Department includes a holding cell, where many people are held on retail fraud charges. In many areas, including most of Genesee County, suspects are given a notice to appear in court, are ticketed and released. Without the dispatch to monitor prisoners 24/7, the lockup would have to be eliminated.
“It’s a crime deterrent,” Burns said. “We’ve looked at numbers, and retail fraud numbers are down compared to places that don’t have a lockup. We felt this service is necessary to the city, and there are a lot of quality-of-life issues.”
Fenton Police Chief Rick Aro said the Fenton Walmart, the biggest retailer in the area, had 28 cases or retail fraud last year, while the Grand Blanc Walmart had 86, Burton's has 97, and Flint Township's had 584.
Suspects may also be jailed for other nonviolent misdemeanors, while they wouldn't be held at Genesee County Jail.
"It allows us to put people in jail," Aro said. "They just don't come back to our city."
Fenton Fire Chief Robert Cairnduff and dispatch staff have said that changes could result in a delay in response time. The city of Fenton and the city of Linden contract with Stat EMS ambulance service with no cost to residents in taxes.
"We have five-minute response times for serious calls 90 percent of the time," Cairnduff said. "You probably can't find that level of service for zero dollars anywhere in the state. We feel the rest of the county should be doing it the way we are doing it."
Burns said the dispatch operates from a $250,000 general operations fund, with $148,000 coming in 911 fees and $102,000 from city funding.
Fenton has had emergency dispatch since the 1970s, with the current system in place for the past 10 years. The city of Flint is the only other Genesee County municipality to have its own dispatch system.