How emergency services are dispatched in Kokomo is likely to change starting Jan. 1. An ongoing disagreement between the city and Howard County over which entity should pay for dispatch is coming to a head with Howard County’s decision to split the responsibilities.
Two years ago, the city and county dispatch centers were combined. Operations fell under the supervision of the Howard County Sheriff’s Department and the combined operation had a budget of approximately $1.4 million per year.
Earlier this year, the Kokomo Common Council voted to terminate the agreement with the hope of negotiating a new pact that would reduce the city’s share of the costs.
The city proposed a funding formula that had Greentown, Russiaville and the townships all paying a percentage.
Under the original agreement, which terminates at the end of this year, Kokomo paid 70 percent of the operating costs based on the volume of calls.
Prior to the consolidation, dispatch services cost taxpayers $2.1 million.
Nick Capozzoli, coordinator of the dispatch center, said continuing the consolidated service would cost $1,389,000 in 2014.
A county-only operation is estimated to cost $1,033,000, he said. Separating city and county dispatch services would change staffing from 22 full- and part-time employees to 16 total positions.
A service fee on telephones provides $645,000 to fund dispatch services in the county.
After city officials expressed concerns over “double taxation” of city residents for dispatch services, Howard County officials submitted a letter to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight with three options to eliminate the double taxation.
The county wanted a response from the city by Thursday.
In option one, the county would have supplied all dispatch services and the city would have transferred its current tax levy to the county.
Option two proposed the city continue to provide funding for dispatch center operations and the county would lower its tax levy to eliminate double taxation of city residents.
The final option was for Howard County and Kokomo to operate separate dispatch centers, with calls being transferred to Kokomo for police and fire response.
“There will be a slight delay,” Capozzoli said Thursday of transferring the calls to the city. “It’s a step backward.”
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said the city has hired outside counsel and is preparing an answer to the county.
He had not heard the county planned to move forward with separating city and county dispatch services and therefore declined to comment.
“According to the report from Crowe Horwath, city residents and businesses pay 72.6 percent of county property taxes, pay 90 percent of the 911 fees and 69 percent of the population lives in Kokomo,” he said. “If you calculate the numbers, 58.65 percent of the runs are in the city.”
Goodnight said he won’t ask city residents and businesses to continue paying $500,000 in city taxes for dispatch services.
“City residents already pay more than enough,” he said.
Sheriff Steve Rogers said with no agreement in place, he has developed two budgets for the dispatch center beginning in 2014.
“We have developed a budget for our own dispatch,” he said. “Without an agreement, the city would do its own dispatch.”
For several decades, long before the merger of dispatch services, city and county dispatchers shared space in the same building.
“We would probably not continue in the same building,” Rogers said. “We will be letting people go. In the past, city dispatchers were paid more than county dispatchers and there is the potential for animosity among the employees.”
Rogers said all calls to 911 would come to the county dispatch center and those requiring a response from city services would be transferred to Kokomo dispatch.
“There was a clause that the agreement could be renegotiated,” he said. “The city chose to terminate it. We will do our own dispatch.
“I hate that we’re breaking up dispatch,” Rogers said. “A citizen’s committee recommended the consolidation and they apparently got it right.”
Rogers said with 2014 budget talks starting, the county had to move forward.
Commissioner Tyler Moore said the county is willing to discuss a continuation of the combined dispatcher center services.
He said the Aug. 1 deadline was set because both the city and county have to start budget negotiations.
“I’m disappointed,” Moore said of the city’s lack of response. “We were willing to eliminate the double taxation and continue with a state-of-the-art dispatch center.”