News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 29, 2014

City agrees to pay Vigo County 911 money

Mayor Bennett wants to restructure contract

TERRE HAUTE — The city of Terre Haute will pay $312,552 to Vigo County for 911 dispatch services after a Thursday meeting of city and county officials.

That payment was due in January under a 2007 city-county agreement that combined then separate emergency dispatch services into a single enhanced 911 system operated by Vigo County government. The city will owe a second payment in July.

Mayor Duke Bennett and county officials attending the meeting agreed to work to restructure a new contract between the two government entities. Officials agreed to work to change a funding quotient in the contract, possibly to a straight percentage. The agreement currently states payments will annually change “to an amount equal to the product of any payment for the previous year multiplied by the assessed value growth quotient established by state law.”

“We would like to re-look at our contract, because that growth quotient is a big thing,” the mayor said after the meeting. “That hurt us because the assessed value dropped, yet the growth quotient went up, so we had to pay more, but had less money.”

The mayor told county officials he has “compared how much we pay compared to other cities, and other than Carmel, most cities aren’t paying at all. I know that was an agreement that was struck. I just want to look at what portion should we be paying.”

The budget this year of the combined 911 dispatch center is more than $1.5 million, of which the city’s share this year is $625,104. The state, which collects a fee on all phones, pays the county about $600,000. The county pays about $370,000, but also pays for utilities and expenses of the center, employee salaries and health insurance.

Chou-il Lee, city attorney, brought up his previously stated concern that the city was being doubled-taxed, as money to fund the dispatch service was coming from property taxes from both the city and county budgets.

Vigo County Auditor Tim Seprodi said at the meeting that while the 911 payment is from the county’s general fund, money comes from a miscellaneous line item in that account. Money from that miscellaneous account is not from property taxes, but from user fees, excise taxes, health fees, etc.

“Miscellaneous funds, without a doubt, are not property taxes,” said Michael Wright, county attorney.

The county, Seprodi said, also reduces its property tax levee by the amount of miscellaneous revenue. “That increases the amount that goes to the city” in its tax disbursement, the auditor said.

Lee and Wright will craft a letter to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance to obtain the state’s position on any possible double-taxation.

Bennett said about 60 percent of 911 calls originate in the city, which also has about 60 percent of the county’s population. “We just have to look at how do we make sure that we are paying the right amount, so there is a balance between what the city pays, the county pays and hopefully, eventually, it should be all fees. We should not be putting any tax money in that,” he said.

The mayor said he will work this summer, as a representative of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, on a state legislative commission on taxation, to find ways that fees can be used to cover the expense for the city. “We don’t have a miscellaneous fund,” the mayor said after the meeting.

Others attending include Terre Haute City Councilman Norm Loudermilk, Vigo County Commissioners Judith Anderson, Mike Ciolli and Brad Anderson, Vigo County Council members Mike Morris, Bill Thomas and Ed Ping, E911 Director Rob McMullen and Ryan Oilar, county council administrator.

Loudermilk suggested the county’s ordinance be amended to include more city representation.

Currently the county ordinance states a 911 board is comprised of the president of the county commissioners and president of the county council (or appointed representatives), president of the city council (or an appointed representative), the city’s fire and police chiefs, the county sheriff and a representative of the Indiana State Police.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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