Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 17, 2013

New law changes the dispatch debate

County requests July meeting to discuss funding model.

By Ken de la Bastide Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — The ongoing debate between Kokomo and Howard County officials regarding how to fund the combined dispatch center has taken an unexpected turn in support of the city’s stance.

As promised, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight and city attorney Lawrence McCormack appeared at the Kokomo Housing Authority building for a Friday meeting with county officials to discuss dispatch center funding.

No county officials appeared, but a letter was received just prior to the meeting requesting an alternative meeting date.

The discussion about funding changed when earlier this year Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation which addressed interlocal agreements that share the cost and funding of dispatch centers. The new law says taxpayers cannot be taxed twice for the same service.

Currently, Kokomo pays 70 percent of the cost and Howard County 30 percent of operating a joint dispatch center for emergency services, after the 911 fee on telephones is subtracted. Dispatch services were combined starting in 2011 with a budget of $1.4 million; a combined savings of $700,000 per year.

Goodnight said city taxpayers pay 86 percent of the dispatch center costs through property taxes and the 911 surcharge on telephones.

Earlier this year, the Kokomo Common Council voted to terminate the existing agreement at the end of year. The city wants to negotiate a new agreement with the county that would require the 11 townships, Russiaville and Greentown to pay a portion of the costs.

Goodnight called the new state law a “game changer” when it comes to dispatch center funding not only locally but around the state.

He said the city is willing to consider continuing to provide some funding for the dispatch center, if allowed under the new state law.

When asked if the city would consider restarting a dispatch center for the Kokomo police and fire departments if calls were transferred from the county facility, Goodnight said he would expect dispatch services to be the same in the city as for other county residents.

If the city no longer pays for dispatch services, he said the city is willing to look at reducing the maximum tax levy.

In response to the mayor’s call for a meeting, Tyler Moore, president of the Howard County Board of Commissioners, suggested a July 10 meeting that would include all the townships, along with Russiaville and Greentown.

In his letter to Goodnight, Moore wrote none of the three commissioners nor Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers would be able to attend.

Goodnight said he was hoping one or two county officials would have attended the Friday meeting. He said he will review and respond to Moore’s letter next week.

Concerning a possible July 10 meeting, Goodnight indicated there should be one spokesperson for the city and county and a moderator should conduct the meeting.

He said clear boundaries had to be defined regarding any meeting of all taxing units in the county.

Meeting with reporters and one member of the public, Goodnight said other Indiana communities are engaged in discussions on how to share costs to provide services and the double taxation problem.

“People demand better accountability and lower taxes,” he said. “They want us to use the funds appropriately and not squander them.

“The big question is why county officials believe city taxpayers should be double taxed,” Goodnight said.

Goodnight said he has been trying for months to meet with the county to discuss changing the cost-sharing agreement and the county response is to leave the formula the same.

He said the county has shown no interest in changing its position, and the city is not interested in soliciting comments from the other taxing units.

“Why do [county officials] treat people and businesses in Kokomo differently than their other constituents?” Goodnight asked. “Kokomo people are residents of the county and pay the same tax rate.”