Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 12, 2013

County offers city two options for dispatch

Lower property taxes for city residents part of either deal.

By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — In its search to remedy concerns of double taxation for dispatch services, Howard County offered the city of Kokomo two alternatives after an hour-long meeting Wednesday.

Thursday, officials from the Howard County Commissioners and the Howard County Council offered the city two options:

• The city can voluntarily lower its property tax levy by the amount it currently pays into dispatch, or

• The city can continue to pay into dispatch, and the county will lower the countywide property tax levy used to fund dispatch.

If the city or county lowers taxes to adjust for double-taxation, property owners won’t receive much of a windfall, though.

According to a study prepared for the county by accounting firm Crowe Horwath, the owner of a $200,000 home will pay about $3.16 in county property taxes for 911 dispatch services this year. The Crowe report didn’t include estimates for the impact of lowering the city’s levy.

The offer doesn’t address where funding will come from if the city decides to lower its property tax levy. For several years, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight has been trying to push dispatch funding back to the county, saying city residents are already paying county taxes for the service.

In addition to paying county taxes to support dispatch and 911 fees on phone lines, city residents pay an additional $542,000 a year to fund the dispatch center, which handles both emergency and non-emergency calls for the city, the county, Greentown and Russiaville.

This year, the cost to fund dispatch from city and county taxes is about $744,000.

If the city isn’t interested in either option, county officials said they will consider no longer accepting non-emergency calls made after hours and on weekends to the Kokomo Police Department, and to the Greentown and Russiaville departments.

“I don’t even want to consider that step,” Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said Thursday.

According to the study, city residents and businesses account for about 73 percent of all the assessed value in the county, and the city generates about 68 percent of all calls to dispatch. About 69 percent of the county’s population lives in the city.

County officials have often claimed the city generates a disproportionate number of police calls, a claim they’ve used to justify the city paying 73 percent of the property-tax funded portion of the dispatch budget.

Goodnight said the Crowe study somewhat debunked those claims.

County officials plan to ask the city to have a decision on 2014 dispatch funding by Aug. 1, before the county starts the budget process.

If the city decides to defund its portion of the dispatch budget, Howard County Commissioner Tyler Moore said Thursday the county is prepared to ask the city to make alternate arrangements for non-emergency calls made after hours.

By law, the county is ultimately responsible for emergency calls, and dispatch will continue to take those calls for both the city, the county, Greentown and Russiaville, regardless of whether Kokomo officials accept either option.

Goodnight declined to offer an immediate response Thursday, saying he’d just received a copy of the report.

“Rest assured, I will defend and do what’s best for city taxpayers,” Goodnight said.