Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 1, 2013

Townships and towns left out of dispatch talks

City proposes funding mechanism that includes all taxing agencies.

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer

— At least one local official calls the city of Kokomo’s proposal to change how emergency service dispatch is funded “voodoo arithmetic.”

Several local elected officials outside of Kokomo and Howard County government contacted by the Tribune said they were unaware of the proposal that would have them pay a share of dispatch center costs.

Kokomo officials presented the idea to Howard County elected officials on April 22. The recommendation included funding from the 11 townships, Greentown and Russiaville for the operation of the combined dispatch centers.

The city proposes that population, not number of calls, be the basis for cost-sharing. Under its model, residents of cities are counted in city, county and township population totals.

The Kokomo Common Council voted Monday to terminate the existing interlocal agreement with Howard County with the hope a new funding agreement can be negotiated before the end of the year.

“I learned about the proposal in the newspaper on Sunday,” Center Township Trustee Jean Lushin said. The city’s proposal would have the township provide 20 percent of the dispatch center funding. “I haven’t seen a proposal,” he said. “I’m not sure the townships are obligated to provide funding.”

Lushin said when the original agreement was signed, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight agreed to share the costs based on the number of calls, and with the recent annexation, the city’s share will increase while the county’s costs will decline.

He called the proposal by which Kokomo residents are counted three times as city, Center Township and Howard County residents “voodoo arithmetic” that wouldn’t fly.

“I serve on the PSAP (Public Safety Access Point) state committee,” Lushin said. “I’ve thought about where the townships would fit. The townships should be an equal partner. At least let us know what was being proposed.”

He said there are only 651 people who live in the unincorporated area of Center Township, and the township is basically out of public safety, turning the responsibility over to the city.

“If the city is going to negotiate with the county and without our participation, it’s out of line,” he said. “You can’t have one person calling all the shots.”

Lawrence McCormack, Kokomo city attorney, said the city and county were the parties to the interlocal agreement and the discussions had to start somewhere.

“We were awaiting a counter proposal from the county,” he said. “We left it up to the county to reach out to the town and townships.”

Commissioner Paul Wyman said if the discussions move forward on a new dispatch center agreement, both the city and county will reach out to the other taxing entities.

“We were reviewing the city’s proposal,” he said. “We didn’t know we had one week before the city would terminate the agreement.”

Wyman said the county always planned to have the township and towns take part in the discussions.

Dianne Kuntz, Taylor Township Trustee, said she learned of the proposal Tuesday morning in the Kokomo Tribune. Taylor Township could be asked to pay 4.12 percent of the local funding.

“I was never contacted,” she said. “We should have been made aware of the proposal.

“It’s not in our guidelines as part of our responsibility,” Kuntz said. “I would have to discuss it with the other trustees.”

Kuntz said since the proposal would impact tax dollars, the townships should have been aware of the city’s recommendation.

Kuntz said she would attend a meeting about funding of the dispatch center should one be held.

Greentown Town Council member Joyce Higginbottom said having the towns and townships pay a portion of the costs was tossed around when the consolidation talks between Kokomo and Howard County took place in 2010.

“I did some of my own math and decided we already were paying our fair share based on the number of calls,” she said. A 911 fee is collected on land line and cellular telephones.

Since 2011, Kokomo and Howard County have shared the cost of operating the dispatch center with a budget of $1.4 million, a combined savings of approximately $700,000 per year. The city was contributing 70 percent of the cost based on the number of calls, and the county was paying 30 percent.

Higginbottom said she hopes the town will be included in any discussions.

“I’m always disappointed when they don’t include us in the discussions,” she said.

Jeff Lipinski, president of the Russiaville Town Council said he has not been contacted about and wasn’t aware of the details of the city’s proposal.

“Right now we’re financially strapped,” he said. “The state cuts our budget every year. I don’t know how we could fund anything else.”

Lipinksi said the town would send a representative to any meeting to discuss changing the dispatch center funding mechanism and would at least consider any proposal.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t heard about it,” he said. “We need some of the details so we can prepare for it, if necessary.”