Saturday, October 25, 2014

City’s share of 911 costs too high, officials say

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 8/21/2013

Ottawa officials say taxpayers in the city are paying more than their fair share of the cost for a joint emergency communications center operated with the county.

An interlocal agreement established in February 1994 outlines shared responsibility — and a 50-50 split on costs — for a 911 service and dispatch center between the City of Ottawa and Franklin County, Bob Bezek, Ottawa city attorney, said. The city now is proposing a decrease in the city’s share associated with the emergency communications center to better balance the costs between city and county taxpayers.

Ottawa officials say taxpayers in the city are paying more than their fair share of the cost for a joint emergency communications center operated with the county.

An interlocal agreement established in February 1994 outlines shared responsibility — and a 50-50 split on costs — for a 911 service and dispatch center between the City of Ottawa and Franklin County, Bob Bezek, Ottawa city attorney, said. The city now is proposing a decrease in the city’s share associated with the emergency communications center to better balance the costs between city and county taxpayers.

“The big sticking point [in the agreement] appears to be who pays for what,” Bezek said. “It’s been the subject of city commission and county discussions for the last year to two years.”

For nearly 20 years, the City of Ottawa and Franklin County have developed a common budget for the dispatch center with each entity paying half, Bezek said. After 19 years, however, Ottawa city commissioners didn’t think the 50-50 agreement is fair to city residents, he said.

“All the city residents pay city and county taxes,” he said. “While people in other areas of the county are only funding one side [of the emergency communications center].”

County leaders have contended, Bezek said, that since the population of Ottawa is nearly half the population of Franklin County, paying 50 percent for the emergency communications center is indeed appropriate for the city.

“[The county’s] essential position is that 50-50 is fair and that the city uses the services half of the time,” he said. “[The city’s] position is that that isn’t fair because city residents are paying twice as much.”

City commissioners voted Wednesday morning to approve amendments to the current agreement stating Franklin County would contribute 52 percent of the funds for the emergency communications center and the City of Ottawa would contribute 48 percent, with the city’s contribution dropping 2 percent each year until Ottawa is only contributing 40 percent.

Another amendment to the agreement involves how the City of Ottawa and Franklin County would claim responsibility for liability claims arising from the operation of the emergency communications systems, Bezek said.

“The deal is that [the emergency communications center] is a county operation,” he said. “[The county] writes the rules, they make decisions yet have the city responsible for a portion of liability for those decisions, while the city doesn’t make any of those decisions.”

The city’s proposed change reads, “The county agrees to hold the City harmless for any and all claims of liability arising from the operation of the emergency communications systems authorized by this agreement,” according to the proposed agreement.

Another proposed change involves the formation of an advisory board, Bezek said.

“The question is that this service provides services to the city police department, Wellsville Police Department, county sheriff, and they only have slightly different needs and ideas. So [the question is] how do you deal with that?” he said. “So the board is about ‘How do you change the operational issues?’ where it’s just not the sheriff saying ‘Here’s how it is.’ It gives input from everybody.”

Some of the city’s proposal obviously could meet resistance from the county, Bezek said.

“The idea is that if the city’s paying less, than somebody else is paying more,” he said. “[The proposed changes] affect [the county’s] budget, and they’re going to be sensitive to that.”

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