The Rantoul Police Department has conducted exploratory talks about the possibility of moving its emergency dispatching services to METCAD, based in Urbana.
Police Chief Paul Farber said the cost to operate the Rantoul system for dispatching police, fire and ambulance services is a factor, as is the state of the village's aging system.
He emphasized that "We're only exploring it. We have been meeting on a regular basis with METCAD because we're looking at what the costs are. There's nothing definite to present to the (village board)."
He said former Mayor Neal Williams and current Mayor Chuck Smith were aware of the talks.
METCAD dispatches all Champaign County emergency services except Rantoul's.
Farber said America's love of cell phones has directly affected the amount of money Rantoul receives to provide an emergency response system.
"It's getting to be a dollars-and-cents things with the 911 surcharges," Farber said. "We're hardly receiving anything."
Each land line phone is levied a surcharge for 911 service. However, there is no levy for cell phones. As the number of land line phones dwindles, so, too, does the amount coming in to provide emergency dispatch service.
Farber said the big cell phone companies are fighting any attempt to levy a surcharge on cell phones.
Mayor Chuck Smith said Rantoul used to receive more than $100,000 a year in 911 surcharge fees from land line phone usage.
Comptroller Scot Brandon said the village received $132,000 in 911 surcharge receipts in 2003. He said they dropped to $40,000 in fiscal year 2013, and the village budgeted $35,000 for the current fiscal year.
Brandon said the Police Communications Division annual budget for this fiscal year is $505,000.
"Not all of that expense would go away if we no longer took 911 calls," Brandon said. "We would still have some costs, assuming we would continue to staff the front desk area of the police station as well as the cost of the 911 service."
Smith said the village has been looking at other ways to fund emergency services "for public access, public safety issues."
Farber said Rantoul's system is aging.
"We've had some things that have not been updated from a technical side, computer-wise," Farber said. "We're doing a study (to see) if it's financially feasible."
Farber said running the dispatch center is quite costly.
"We have to determine which way to go," the police chief said. "We have a tremendous cost of thousands and thousands of dollars to replace equipment that's in place right now.
"The computerized radio system and some of the stuff that we have (were installed in 1989). There is a lot of software that no longer will support what we have. It's out of date."
Farber told the village board last month that the dispatch center, located at the police department, was hit by a lightning strike May 31.
It knocked out one of the 911 phones and the hard drive of one of the consoles, and damaged other equipment. He said insurance would pay to repair part of the damage.
Smith said so far the cost has reached $7,500 and could rise.
Asked the advantages of not switching to METCAD, Farber said, "At this point we're pursuing every angle. We have been serving as a backup for METCAD for years."
Smith said the advantage of a Rantoul dispatch center is that "in the past everything was self-contained and (gave) access to just services in Rantoul. At that point it was economically feasible for us to do that, and it was something the mayor and village board had decided to provide."
"Now as we're losing the revenue source from the land lines and more folks are going to cell phone use, the 911 (calls) are going to METCAD in Champaign," Smith said.
Rantoul doesn't have the capability to field 911 cell calls. Those go to Champaign.
And METCAD serves as Rantoul's backup.
Should Rantoul switch to METCAD, a neighboring county, possibly Vermilion County, would be used as a backup.
Farber said if a switch to METCAD would be made, "we're working on plans to utilize our entire dispatch staff."
"By no means are we endorsing any change," Farber said.