City public safety officials are encouraging the public to educate themselves about replacement of the City's 911 emergency radio system and the implementation of a fire station relocation plan before going to the polls April 7. Voters will decide whether to increase the City sales tax a quarter-cent for three years to fund the improvements. Information about the issues is available at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: public safety).
If the sales tax increase is approved, it would raise about $34.5 million. About $20.5 million would fund replacement of the aging radio system. About $14 million would fund implementation of the fire station relocation plan to improve emergency response time.
The projects have been in the City's capital improvement program for at least ten years. A 13-member citizen committee appointed by Mayor Beutler examined several proposals for funding the projects before unanimously recommending the temporary sales tax increase. The City Council voted unanimously to put this issue on the ballot.
Public Safety Director Tom Casady, who chaired the citizen committee, said about 2,300 radios operate on the City's system, which was originally acquired in 1987. He said many components of the radio system are no longer available, and vendor support will end in 2017. In addition to the Lincoln Police Department, Lincoln Fire and Rescue and the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, the radio system serves the City Public Works and Utilities Department, the UNL Police Department, Lincoln Public Schools and several other agencies.
"Last year Lincoln police officers and firefighters alone pushed the button on a microphone over five million times," Casady said. "The emergency radio system is critical to public safety. It is how our 911 dispatchers communicate with our first responders, and how our first responders communicate with one another. Although the system has served us well, it has now become obsolete, and must be replaced."
Lincoln last added a fire station in 1997. Since then, Lincoln has grown in population by 57,000 and in area by 22 square miles. "As a result of this growth, more and more addresses in Lincoln are beyond the national standard for travel time from a fire station in the event of a life-threatening emergency, such as a cardiac arrest, stroke or traumatic injury," Casady said. "The standard in urban fire and rescue service is four minutes. About 10,000 addresses are outside of the four-minute travel time area."
Lincoln Fire and Rescue developed a fire station relocation plan that would bring about 6,500 of the 10,000 addresses within the four-minute range. Station 10 and Station 12 would be relocated, and new fire stations would be built in the area of 70th and Pine Lake Road and the area of 84th and Holdrege. The new station in southeast Lincoln would be a joint Police and Fire facility.
"About 45 police personnel who presently deploy from downtown headquarters into southeast Lincoln would use this facility, saving fuel and personnel time and improving response times to emergencies," Casady said.
The State Legislature authorized an increase in the local sales tax by a vote of the people. The sales tax cannot be extended beyond the period authorized by the voters. The impact of the sales tax increase is estimated to be about $45 a year for a household of four people with an annual household income of $60,000. If the projects were funded through a bond issue, the cost to the same household would be about $20 a year for 20 years
Information available at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: public safety) includes a fact sheet, the report of the citizen committee, answers to frequently asked questions and videos highlighting the work of public safety professionals. Casady said local organizations wanting presentations on the public safety ballot issue can contact him at 402-441-7071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.