Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 4, 2012

City, county at impasse

Ownership of EMA, Weights & Measures equipment under review.

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor

— There is an impasse between Howard County and Kokomo officials on how to deal with the equipment used by the Emergency Management Agency and Weights & Measures departments which will be under county control by the end of the year.

Last month, the Kokomo Common Council voted to terminate the inter-local agreements with the county for the joint operation of Weights & Measures Oct. 16 and EMA Dec. 31.

The equipment for both agencies were purchased by both taxing units with Kokomo providing 55 percent of the funding and Howard County 45 percent.

The Howard County Commissioners on Monday voted to advertise for the purchase of a truck for use by the Weights & Measures Department and other equipment at a cost of up to $55,000.

“There is no agreement regarding the use of the equipment,” Commissioner Paul Wyman said. “We have to be in a position for Weights & Measures to continue to operate with a vehicle and the equipment needed.”

Commissioner Bill Thompson said to be fair to the taxpayers of the city and county as to who owns the equipment a court decision should be sought.

“All the equipment has been paid for by taxpayers,” Thompson said.

Wyman said it would be a challenge to get a court opinion by Oct. 13.

Thompson said the county should ask the city not to dispose of any equipment used by both agencies until a court makes a determination as to ownership.

Wyman said the EMA and Weights & Measures equipment should be transferred by the city to the county to continue to benefit Howard County residents.

He said since the city determined to turn over the operations to the county, the equipment should be transferred.

Larry Murrell, Howard County attorney, said there would still be time to get a court make a determination on ownership of the EMA equipment.

Commissioner Tyler Moore said it has never been the county’s intent to go to court.

“That is not my first option,” he said. “I hope we can avoid a court action and reach an understanding.”

Wyman said my ending the inter-local agreements the city of Kokomo is saving $300,000. He said reasonable people would conclude he city would turn over the equipment to the county.

He said there has been no response from the city that the county is getting the equipment.

“My sincere hope is the city will turn over the equipment to the county,” Wyman said.

Randy McKay, director of operations for Kokomo, said Tuesday there has been no discussion with the county for some time, adding there has been correspondence exchanged.

“We’re open for discussion,” he said. “We’re not sure where the county is at. We’re willing to talk about it.”

McKay said the city is flexible when it comes to the equipment, but noted city taxpayers paid 72-cents of every dollar spent.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to sit down,” he said of any discussions. “We want to security for Kokomo residents that the services will be at the same level as any county resident.”

Mayor Greg Goodnight said he has sent a letter to county officials to sit down and discuss several issues. He said the meeting could be in a private or public setting.

Moore said originally the city wanted a mediator to sit in on any discussions, something county officials didn’t believe was necessary.

“A public meeting might change things,” he said. “That would be a decision by all three commissioners.”

Moore said he hoped any impasse could be resolved before the county takes over the operation of Weights & Measures in two weeks.

“City and county taxpayers have already paid for the equipment, it should stay with the department,” he said.

Moore said there is no need to meet if the discussion centers on the transfer of the equipment.

“All of the equipment should stay with the respective department,” he said of the county’s position. “The equipment and EMA building was paid for by taxpayers.”

Discussions in August between the two government entities centered on Kokomo turning over all the EMA and Weights & Measures equipment to the county, except for two tanker trucks used by the EMA Fire Department. The county also wanted the city to pay 27.5 percent of the 2013 budget of EMA.

Those discussions terminated in mid-August.