RANTOUL — Beginning as soon as this summer, Rantoul emergency calls will no longer be answered or dispatched from the local police department.
The Champaign County Metropolitan Computer-Aided Dispatch board voted Thursday to accept Rantoul's request to be added to the countywide system.
Mayor Chuck Smith said formal approval by the Rantoul Village Board is expected at its monthly meeting Tuesday. That appears to be a formality since the board voted last fall to ask that METCAD add Rantoul to its system.
"METCAD met all of our expectations, and it's a matter of getting final board approval," Smith said.
The village could join the countywide system as soon as July 1.
Rantoul's efforts to join METCAD hit a snag in February when Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing objected to the added cost ($127,000) that her city would incur, in part as a result of the change.
An arrangement, however, was worked out by which Urbana will be allowed to pay that extra money over five years instead of one year.
Greg Abbott, METCAD deputy director, said Urbana never had a philosophical problem with Rantoul joining.
"Urbana always believed in the concept of bringing Rantoul in," Abbott said.
The extra cost will be due to having to split radio frequencies to accommodate Rantoul, which will result in having to hire three additional dispatchers.
Rantoul police Lt. Jeff Wooten said under the present arrangement, the University of Illinois, Urbana police and the sheriff's office have shared one radio frequency.
"Especially on weekends, it gets very busy on that frequency," Wooten said.
As a result of the change, Rantoul and the sheriff's office will share a frequency, and Urbana and the UI will share a frequency.
Wooten said the change will benefit not only the various emergency departments. It will also benefit residents of Rantoul.
"Having all agencies going through one dispatch center provides more safety," he said, "and everyone knows what everyone else is doing."
With Rantoul having its own dispatch center, "It's just been one extra step in the process," Wooten said. "If we need help in Rantoul (from outside the village), we either have to switch frequencies to call them for assistance or we have to have a dispatcher call down and have them ask for assistance."
Rantoul will pay $210,884 a year for METCAD services. The figure will be prorated down if it is not able to join the system until later.
That, however, will be only part of the cost. An earlier estimate placed the total cost for services at a little more than $1 million a year, which is about the same amount as if Rantoul had maintained its own system.
A major problem had been aging equipment. Because the amount of 911 fee money from land line phone fees has dropped dramatically — from $137,8919 in 2000 to $36,625 last year — Rantoul has not been able to make equipment upgrades.
Rantoul emergency services (police, ambulance and fire) and Ludlow Fire Protection District had been the only agencies in the county not connected with METCAD.
Ludlow Fire Chief Dave Ingleman said Thursday, "We'll have to follow Rantoul" as a result of the vote.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press. For more, go to rantoulpress.com.