Property tax bills may go up to pay for new Clark County 9-1-1 center

6:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 Politics

Clark County property owners might see their taxes go up about $60 a year to pay for a new, state-of-the-art combined 9-1-1 dispatch center in 2019, which local leaders said would greatly improve the safety of residents.

A flat fee, parcel assessment has been proposed to pay for the operation, meaning the city of Springfield and the county could each save about $1.5 million in general fund tax dollars annually, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.

“It’s very critical to public safety and saving lives,” he said.

County commissioners can approve the assessment later this year without going on the ballot, per Ohio law, he said.

“It’s literally a life-saving system for all of the counties residents,” Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. “We need a consistent and reliable funding system to continue to provide those systems. I appreciate the county leadership looking at all options.”

Leaders decided against a property tax levy, Lohnes said, because other counties have had that types of funding initially approved by voters but then rejected when it came up for renewal.

“When you’re dealing with this kind of a project, you want to minimize risk,” he said. “It eliminates the risk and solves some future budgetary problems.”

The amount of the assessment is still be determined, Lohnes said, but might be in the range of about $60 annually or about $5 per month. The new dispatch center could cost up to $4 million, including renovations, security and new equipment, he said.

“We’re going to crunch as many numbers as we can before we send out the public notice,” Lohnes said. “We want to keep (the assessment) as small as we can, but we basically need about $3.1 (million) to $3.2 (million).”

Any tract of land that’s been improved, such as a building, driveway or structure, will be assessed the same fee, Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said. Clark County currently has about 55,600 improved parcels.

“It’s the most fair way we can come up with funding, that’s for sure,” County Commissioner Lowell McGlothin said.

The 9-1-1 system in Clark County is flawed, Lohnes said. Operations will improve if all jurisdictions are on the same system that will allow for emergency calls to go to one location. Currently 9-1-1 calls go to different dispatchers based on where callers are located and what type of phone they’re using, which can lead to delays in response times as calls are transferred between the city and county.

“A lot of people don’t know how much risk they’re in,” he said.

The system also will allow dispatchers to see where all law enforcement officers and fire personnel are located within Clark County at all times, Lohnes said, which also will improve safety.

“They’ll see it on their screen and they won’t have to pick up the phone and ask for other personnel,” he said.

County commissioners also will hold public meetings later this month to discuss the proposed assessment, which will include the latest data possible, Lohnes said.

Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett will have jurisdiction over the facility, Lohnes said, which could open in early 2019.

It’s a great example of the city and county working together for the benefit of everyone who lives here, regardless of their address, Flax Wilt said. 

The combined dispatch center will likely lead to less positions through attrition, he said.

The townships also won’t have to pay for dispatching anymore and will have access to a state-of-the-art dispatch center to keep residents safe, Flax Wilt said.

“I know the townships highest priority is public safety, so this helps to further their goals at the same time giving us all better access to public safety,” she said. “As a resident of Clark County, that makes me feel good to know we’re going to have the quickest response regardless of where someone lives in the county.”

The county will also move its dispatchers out of the Clark County Jail building to Springview next year to provide more space for upgraded next generation 9-1-1 equipment, Lohnes said. It will allow those upgrades to be purchased for one system, he said.

Combined, the two dispatch centers cost about $3 million to operate annually with about 35 full-time employees that field about 150,000 calls annually.

There are a lot of details that need to be worked through, Bodenmiller said.

“A funding solution has been our main challenge for the last year-and-a-half, two years,” he said. “I think once that’s set, we can continue to work on the fine details of the combination.”

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