Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who’s paying what for 911?

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 10/9/2013

Ottawa city commissioners remain hopeful portions of the city-county interlocal agreement for the operation of the joint emergency communications center can be renegotiated. But city and county officials still appear to be in opposite camps when it comes to how to fund the center, located in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office/Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa.

Under the agreement, established in February 1994, the city has been paying 50 percent of the wages for the personnel who run the center, county officials said.

Ottawa city commissioners remain hopeful portions of the city-county interlocal agreement for the operation of the joint emergency communications center can be renegotiated. But city and county officials still appear to be in opposite camps when it comes to how to fund the center, located in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office/Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa.

Under the agreement, established in February 1994, the city has been paying 50 percent of the wages for the personnel who run the center, county officials said.

“It would not be accurate to say the city is paying 50 percent of the cost of the center, because they are only paying 50 percent of the salaries of the center’s employees,” Steve Harris, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said. “The county is paying for all the additional costs [to run the center].”

Those costs, which would include such items as building maintenance, utilities, information technology support, insurance, rent and numerous other expenses, are shouldered by the county, county commissioners pointed out in late August when city officials offered a proposal that would decrease the City of Ottawa’s contribution by 2 percent each year for the next five years until Ottawa was contributing 40 percent of the cost.

City commissioners have said they thought the 40 percent figure was fair since residents of Ottawa pay not only property taxes for Ottawa, but also Franklin County.

Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, also pointed out Wednesday that cities like Wellsville, which has its own police force, and Pomona, which contracts its police services through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, do not pay additional funds for the 911 center.

“We’re not trying to create a rift with the county,” Jorgensen said. “We just want to do what is fair. I really think we can figure out something — it’s a matter of getting folks together and discussing options. There are reasonable people at both entities, and we’re both trying to look out for what’s best for our constituents. I’m sure we will be able to reach an agreement.”

Harris said Wednesday it would be a mischaracterization to say Ottawa residents are paying twice — through city and county taxes — to fund the 911 center. Taxes levied for the center are paid by property owners — and not all residents of Ottawa are property owners, he said.

“And some of the people who own property in Ottawa don’t live inside the city [of Ottawa],” Harris said. “They live out in the county and other locations — some property owners are out of state.”

Richard Nienstedt, Ottawa city manager, and Linda Reed, mayor pro tem, said Wednesday the city would like to have wording in the agreement that holds the city harmless for any liabilities in the event the dispatch center was sued.

Harris did not have a problem with the county assuming liability for the center because the personnel running the center are county employees, he said.

Harris thought it would not be cost effective for the city to break away from the joint agreement and establish its own 911 center, he said. The city and county had separate emergency call centers until the two entities decided in 1994 it would be more efficient and effective to channel all calls through one center.

Reed was confident an agreement could be reached in the near future, she said.

“I’d like to look at this from the big picture perspective of what’s the best way to be efficient with taxpayer money and serve [city and county] residents,” she said.

Following the city’s proposed reduction to 40 percent in August, the county sent the city a revised agreement that called for the county to accept all liability for the operations of the 911 center and to form an advisory committee to provide recommendations to the sheriff on the operations of the center. But the county’s revised agreement kept the current funding scenario intact.

“The commission considered the request for a reduction in funding and after discussion felt that the current funding remained equitable and appropriate due to the fact the 911 center operating budget does not include other operational expenses for the center that are assumed entirely by the county,” Lisa Johnson, county counselor/administrator, wrote in a letter that accompanied the revised agreement.

City commissioners discussed possible revisions to the contract in executive session at Monday’s study session. Nienstedt said he anticipated city commissioners would consider adopting a newly drafted version of the contract during their meeting 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. If the city commission approves a new draft of the agreement, the revised contract would be forwarded to the county board of commissioners for its consideration.

In the meantime, the current agreement established in 1994 will remain in effect, city and county officials said.

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