Clark County commissioners have rejected a proposed tax for a $4 million countywide dispatch center expected to open in 2019, but might consider it again and other ways to pay for 9-1-1 in the future.
Commissioners said Wednesday they expect to revisit the issue with other county and city leaders early next year. The proposed tax assessment would have generated about $3 million annually to run the consolidated system.
The city of Springfield and Clark County have long had separate emergency dispatch centers and depending on the type of phone or where a caller is, often have to transfer calls to each other. A consolidated center would eliminate duplicated services and improve response times, county commissioners have said.
The amount of the assessment hadn’t been determined but was expected to be in the range of about $60 annually or about $5 per month. Any tract of land that’s been improved, such as a building, driveway or structure, would have been assessed the same fee. Clark County has about 59,500 improved parcels.
The commission held two public hearings in the past two weeks to discuss the issue and had 30 days to accept the proposal. County commissioners could have approved the assessment without going on the ballot, per Ohio law. Several residents spoke out against the fee at those meetings and some called for it to go to voters to decide.
A new dispatch center could cost up to $4 million per year, including renovations, security and new equipment, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said. The county would pay for any capital improvements as part of the proposed tax assessment funding model, Lohnes said.
County Commissioner Lowell McGlothin initially wanted to table the discussion for a week to gather more information. The county recently spent $140,000 for a consultant, Fairfax, Va.-based Federal Engineering Inc., to oversee the process of creating a unified countywide 9-1-1 dispatch center. The commission has yet to speak with the consultant or the city about other funding options, he said.
“We’ve heard a lot of different ideas on it,” McGlothin said. “I think we need to look into it a lot more … Everybody says we need to combine this. How we do it is what we’re trying to figure out.”
The commissioners opted to vote no on the new tax and continue the discussion with city and township officials.
“We’re not going to come to any conclusions by next Wednesday,” Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.
County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt also wants to present a proposal to city leaders with other funding mechanisms, she said.
“I know we’ve had a lot of discussions about it but it would be good to put something down on paper,” she said.
If the commission seeks to resume discussion of a tax assessment, it must again go through the public process, including hearings, Lohnes said.
The assessment was the only proposed funding method agreed upon by the county 9-1-1 planning committee, which includes the city of Springfield and Bethel Twp., the county’s largest township, he said.
“That’s why I brought it to you guys to run it up the flag pole and see if it works,” Lohnes said. “We learned a lot about the (data). We did what we were asked to consider and we learned a lot from the public meeting.”
If it had been approved, the assessment likely would have saved Springfield and the county about $1.5 million each in general fund tax dollars annually.
The entire county spends about $3.38 million on 9-1-1 dispatching, including $1.6 million by Springfield and $1.3 million by Clark County.
“Everybody agrees (the consolidated 9-1-1 center) is needed, we just have to figure out how to do it,” Flax Wilt said.
September 2013: Casino money might help pay for combined dispatch
March 2014: County dispatch to save German Twp. $30K
September 2015: Combined 9-1-1 system on hold for Springfield, Clark County
September 2016: New Clark County 11 system will soon allow emergency texts
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has tracked the city of Springfield and Clark County’s efforts to create a combined 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center for more than five years, including stories digging into the cost and call volumes.