The future of emergency dispatch services appears to be in the hands of Howard County government. Last week, Mayor Greg Goodnight issued a letter that stated his intent ensure that city residents are not doubly taxed for the service.
The likelihood that the city and county might sit down and negotiate an agreement that would involve city tax revenue being devoted to dispatch is slim.
“Pursuant to the DLGF’s (Department of Local Government Finance) guidance on this issue, it does not seem prudent to hold any further public meeting on the issue of C-COM (dispatch) funding,” wrote Goodnight in a letter addressed to Howard County Commissioner Tyler Moore. “The City intends to follow the guidelines set forth by the State of Indiana to protect all Hoosiers from double taxation. We want the taxpayers of Kokomo to enjoy equal rights of citizenship in Howard County.”
Should there be no further discussion between the two governments, the interlocal agreement will expire on Dec. 31, 2013. At that time, it will be the county’s responsibility to decide how to handle emergency calls for service it receives at its central communications center.
Two weeks ago, Moore indicated that the county was willing to pass emergency calls to a city dispatch center, which does not currently exist, but he offered no other options.
Goodnight is standing on an interpretation of Indiana Code 36-1-7-16 made by DLGF attorney Michael Duffy. The code’s language, which goes into effect on July 1, specifically calls for any interlocal agreement between governmental units to be structured so that no taxpayer is asked to pay more than another for the service provided. In this case, dispatch services are at issue.
“I understand that Howard County is the exclusive provider of PSAP services within the county,” wrote Duffy. “I also understand that the county imposes a property tax on all county residents for these services and that it would like Kokomo to impose a property tax on its own residents to pay over to the county to supplement funding for those services.
“In such a situation, Kokomo residents would be paying two taxes for the same service - one tax to the city and one tax to the county. This double taxation would be a major cause for concern at DLGF and could affect approval of budgets. This is true independent of IC 36-1-7-16.”
While there is not a specific property tax designated for emergency dispatch services as Duffy supposed, general fund expenditures of property taxes are used by both the city and the county to fund the service. This still would qualify as double taxation under the attorney’s interpretation.
And Goodnight is using this to end the relationship.
“Based upon Mr. Duffy’s response, the City is hesitant to pursue a future interlocal funding agreement for C-COM that could put our budget or the County’s budget at risk,” wrote Goodnight. “This appears to apply to all of the townships as well.
“We all agree that the current county-wide C-COM provides emergency dispatch services in an efficient manner. However, according to the State, it must be funded in a manner that does not impose a double tax on certain residents of Howard County. The statute makes that very clear. I would suggest that the County make sure that no resident of Howard County is paying twice for the same service.”
Moore asked Goodnight to attend a meeting on July 10 with county leaders to discuss dispatch following an exchange of letters provided to local media. Goodnight held a public hearing on June 14, asking the county to attend, which it declined.