Saturday, December 20, 2014

County: City’s 911 share is fair

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 8/26/2013

County officials said Monday some Ottawa city officials are misleading residents with recent statements about who pays what for the county’s 911 center.

Though he might not have been at Monday morning’s study session for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, Steve Harris, who serves as the board’s chair but has been absent for health reasons since early July, said he thinks the city’s characterization that it pays 50 percent of the costs for the joint emergency communications center is inaccurate.

County officials said Monday some Ottawa city officials are misleading residents with recent statements about who pays what for the county’s 911 center.

Though he might not have been at Monday morning’s study session for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, Steve Harris, who serves as the board’s chair but has been absent for health reasons since early July, said he thinks the city’s characterization that it pays 50 percent of the costs for the joint emergency communications center is inaccurate.

“When [city officials] say 50-50, it’s not really 50-50,” Harris said. “My understanding in what’s paid 50-50 are the salaries — just the wages of the people that operate the center.”

Ottawa officials last week proposed changes to the interlocal agreement between the city and county that helps pay for the joint emergency communications center, located at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, 315 S. Main St. As part of the proposal, the City of Ottawa’s contribution would decrease 2 percent each year for the next five years until Ottawa is only contributing 40 percent.

City leaders said Wednesday during a city commission meeting, they thought the 40 percent figure was fair since residents of Ottawa pay not only property taxes for Ottawa, but also Franklin County.

“Not everybody that lives in Ottawa is a property owner, and what it comes down to is who the property owners are that are paying the taxes,” Harris said. “Again, that is a misstatement [by Ottawa city officials]. It makes the public think that it’s all Ottawa citizens [paying the extra tax] when it’s people that own property that own inside the city limits. That includes many people that don’t even live in Ottawa.”

During Monday’s county study session, commissioner Rick Howard said the 50-50 contribution was fair because of the amount of calls the emergency communications center takes from the City of Ottawa.

“I think it’s more than fair,” Howard said. “There are different things the city uses [the emergency communications center] for. A lot of it is city officers running building checks and it’s more than just calls for service. I think [Ottawa] is more than getting their share of what they pay.”

County commissioners also discussed their openness to finding other ways of making the cost sharing more fair, citing the insurance deductible the county would have to meet if liability claims were made.

“There is a $5,000 deductible for any liability if you wanted to address the cost share of the deductible you have to pay,” Lisa Johnson, county administrator and counselor, told commissioners Monday morning.

All municipalities are searching for more money, Harris said, but when Ottawa city officials said their reasoning for not wanting to contribute 50 percent for the emergency communications center was because Ottawa residents already were paying taxes for Franklin County and Ottawa, he said he wondered what the City of Ottawa planned to do with the extra money saved by not contributing as much.

“I talked about the same thing to [city officials],” Harris said. “So let’s say that [Ottawa] wasn’t paying [50 percent for the emergency communications center], then you would reduce the mill levy for your citizens in Ottawa that own property by that amount and they didn’t give an answer. It doesn’t necessarily, from my viewpoint, mean that [city officials] would go back and directly reduce all tax rates, just whatever that amount would be, would be put in the budget to do what they want with.”

Commissioner Colton Waymire said he felt the way the emergency communications was paid for now was more 60-40, with the county paying 60 percent.

“Since the cost [to the city] currently doesn’t include all the other costs mentioned [rent, building maintenance, information technology], we leave the agreement as is currently, staying at the 50-50 split, when it’s in fact about a 60-40 split,” Waymire said. “If there was another good idea, we’d be happy to listen to it.”

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