TERRE HAUTE —
The City of Terre Haute has not paid its share of the combined emergency 911 bill in 2014, according to county and city officials.
Under a 2007 agreement, the city and county governments agreed to combine their then-separate emergency dispatch services into a single 911 system operated by the Vigo County government. In return, the city was to pay the county a minimum of $500,000 per year in two payments – one in January and one in July. That amount was to increase annually in accord with the state’s annual “growth quotient,” which is used to decide how much new money local governments can receive in property taxes.
This year, the city has declined to pay its share of the 911 bill, which is now up to an annual total of $625,104. The January payment, which was to have been $312,552, has still not been made, a county official told the Tribune-Star.
Chou-il Lee, city attorney, said the city’s nonpayment is a result of questions of possible “double taxation” of city residents for the 911 service. An official with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, in an email Lee provided to the Tribune-Star, stated last year that Kokomo residents were facing double taxation for 911 services.
How is Terre Haute’s situation similar to Kokomo’s, Lee was asked? “We don’t know all the answers, yet,” he answered. But, if the county is paying for 911 services from its “general fund” and the city is also, “it’s double taxation,” he said, adding, “We may have to reach out to the DLGF” for an answer.
A county official said Thursday that Vigo County routinely reduces its annual “levy” – the amount of money it seeks to raise through property taxes – by the same amount as the city’s 911 payment, thereby avoiding “double taxation.”
Michael Wright, attorney for the Vigo County government, also does not believe double taxation is taking place and thinks the city should live up to the agreement it signed in 2007 and allowed to renew in 2012.
“The county does not feel there is any issue with double taxation,” Wright said. “And the county feels they should live up to their end of the bargain and make these payments.”
Rob McMullen, director of Vigo County 911, said he does not know how much longer the center can operate without the city’s payments. The county is covering the costs for now, he said. If things don’t change, dispatchers could lose their jobs and services provided would dip below what citizens need, he said.
“We’re one of the busiest counties around,” McMullen said. Dispatchers are already handling all the calls they can, he said.
In 2013, the dispatch center received more than 101,000 calls for service – about 56 percent of which came from within the city, and that figure does not include the thousands of non-emergency calls the center receives from within the city.
In 2007, when the combined dispatch center was opened, the city was accounting for about 68 percent of 911 calls in the county, according to estimates made public at the time. Under the terms of the current agreement, which remains in effect until January 2017, if either the city or county wants to end the agreement, it must give notice before March 1 of 2016. To avoid the renewal in 2012, the city or county needed to give notice by March 1 of 2011, Wright said.
Centralized dispatch services are becoming the norm around the state because of it’s cheaper to operate one center than two – in part because expensive equipment is required, McMullen said.
Still, “the city can reopen their dispatch center if they don’t want the county to run it any more,” Wright said.
City and county officials are going to meet this week to discuss the matter, Lee said.
“If there’s not an agreement sometime in the near future,” Wright said, “there would be further demand for [the city] to comply with the agreement by whatever means are deemed necessary by the [Vigo County] commissioners.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or email@example.com