- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Clark county residents and local leaders spoke out about a proposed tax assessment to pay for a $4 million combined 911 dispatch center.
The Clark County Commission held a second public hearing on the issue Wednesday morning at the Clark County Municipal Court and County Offices building. Commissioners now have 30 days to move forward with the assessment, Commission President Rick Lohnes said. County commissioners can approve the assessment later this year without going on the ballot, per Ohio law.
“We’re taking an honest look at it,” he said. “We’re running it up the flag pole and see which way the wind blows.”
The new dispatch center could cost up to $4 million per year, including renovations, security and new equipment, he said. The county would pay for any capital improvements as part of the proposed tax assessment funding model, Lohnes said.
The amount of the assessment is still to be determined but might 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, will be assessed the same fee, leaders said. Clark County currently has about 59,500 improved parcels.
The assessment was the only proposed funding method agreed upon by the county 911 planning committee, which includes the City of Springfield and a representative from Bethel Twp., the county’s largest township. County commissioners can approve the assessment later without putting the tax increase on the ballot per Ohio law, they have said.
It would likely save Springfield and the county about $1.5 million each in general fund tax dollars annually, while the townships would also save money, commissioners have said.
Other funding methods discussed included a 1.5-mill levy that would generate about $3.5 million annually and charging all entities contracting with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which would cost about $3.2 million annually, but not include any new taxes.
At last week’s meeting, several people, including Clark County Treasurer Steve Metzger, asked commissioners to let the community decide the issue at the polls.
The consolidated dispatch center is a no-brainer, The Chamber of Greater Springfield board president Jim Lagos said. However, using a tax assessment to pay for it isn’t fair to business owners who own multiple parcels. The dispatch center should continue to be paid for with existing tax dollars, he said.
“It makes sense for everybody to chip in together and let’s do this right now,” Lagos said.
The two leading causes of death in Clark County are heart disease and stroke, Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. A consolidated dispatch center will reduce response times and improve the health of the community, he said.
“Everyone knows that seconds matter when someone is having a heart attack or stroke,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question that removing those additional seconds that a transferred phone call takes is vital to the health of our community moving forward.”
Patterson also asked the commission to “step above the political fray” and not base its funding decision on a levy that could be defeated by voters in the future. It’s vital the community create a consolidated dispatch center as soon as possible, he said.
“This is something that our citizens deserve to have, not only now, but forever into the future,” Patterson said. “We should have a funding stream that’s not based on the whim of the voters, but based on what’s right for our citizens.”
Bethel Twp. resident Steve Kubilius spoke out against the proposed tax assessment, telling commissioners the community is already being taxed to death. He told commissioners his taxes have increased from about $900 in 2003 to more than $1,400 today.
“That’s a big jump,” he said. “I know everybody else is in the same situation. Clark County is not a wealthy county.”
Commissioners must also take into consideration that while the tax assessment may be imposed, it may not generate as much as estimated because some delinquent property owners may not pay their taxes, New Carlisle City Manager Randy Bridge said. New Carlisle is expected to begin contracting with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office next year for its dispatching services.
If approved, the tax assessment could lead to property owners asking leaders to combine multiple parcels into one, Clark County Auditor John Federer said.
“I would be very cautious of an assessment because the devil is in the details when it comes to the assessment,” he said.
There are currently three 911 dispatch centers in Clark County, including for the City of Springfield and the Sheriff’s Office. The Mad River/Green Twp. center dispatches for the fire and EMS departments in those townships, Lohnes said.
On the borders of those call centers, it’s possible calls may have to be transferred, depending on where and from what type of phone the calls come from, which can lead to delays in response times as calls are transferred between the city and county.
The consolidated operation will eliminate duplicated services, improve response times, allow for the implementation of next generation 911 systems, improve the exchange of information among agencies and create a standard protocol in Clark County, Lohnes said.
The entire county spends about $3.38 million on 911 dispatching, including $1.6 million by Springfield and $1.3 million by Clark County.
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
January of 2017: Clark County, Springfield still mulling combined dispatch center