- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Clark County residents spoke out against a proposed tax assessment to pay for a $4 million combined 911 dispatch center, asking commissioners to instead place the issue on the ballot next year.
About 30 people attended a public hearing on the proposed tax assessment at the Springview Government Center on Wednesday evening.
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. Commissioners also discussed up to $70 per parcel. 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.
“These are still all on the table,” said Clark County Commissioner Richard Lohnes. “That’s where we’re having these meetings.”
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 comes from, which can lead to delays in response times as calls are transferred between the city and county, Lohnes said.
“That kind of confusion can happen anywhere,” Lohnes said.
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.
The flat fee is a regressive tax, said local attorney Dan Harkins. If converted to millage, the assessment costs more for homeowners whose properties are valued at less, he said. For example, the owner of a $50,000 home would pay the equivalent of 3.4 mills, while the owner of a $100,000 home will pay about 1.7 mills, he said.
“The burden on the less affluent is greater because of the flat fee,” Harkins said.
The county currently collects sales tax on telephone service, and a 911 surcharge is placed on both cellphones and land lines, Harkins said. It also has sufficient reserves to cover the costs of the 911 center, he said. The county had a surplus of $13.3 million last year, Harkins said.
“This community is dying, it’s population is declining and we’re dying … because of death by taxes,” Harkins said. “If you’re going to proceed, the better way to do it given the regressive nature of the tax would not be for the commission itself to impose it, but to put it up for referendum. … The voters should make that decision.”
A tax levy likely won’t pass because residents are tired of being taxed, Springfield resident Mary Colvin said. While the tax assessment is a flat fee, she’s concerned about residents paying it every year, especially for retired people on fixed incomes, she said. Residents will also have no say in how saved general fund dollars will be spent by the city and county, she said.
“You’re not lowering anything, any levy I’ve already passed for you,” she said. “I just think that you guys are going to have all the money and the poor people aren’t going to have anything. … We’re just being taxed, taxed, taxed.”
Clark County Treasurer Steve Metzger also asked commissioners to place the issue on the ballot, but prefers a property tax levy.
“I stress the commission place it on the ballot for the public decide what they want,” he said. “Let the public as a whole decide that.”
Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it’s a fair system for residents. It’s especially critical for police officers and firefighters because it’s their main communication in the field. The city can use the money saved by the assessment to invest in other areas, including paving roads.
“It’s an absolutely critical service,” he said. “I think we tend to take it for granted that it’s there 24 hours a day, seven days a week until you need it. When you need it, honestly, the $60 will seem a lot less significant than it does as we talk about it today.”
The city and county have discussed multiple funding sources in the past, including a council of governments. However, the county sheriff controls countywide dispatch operations in each county per Ohio revised code, meaning Sheriff Deb Burchett would have to relinquish control of the operation to create a council of governments.
Burchett has said in the past the Sheriff’s Office wants control of a combined dispatch center, Lohnes said, meaning all entities would have to agree to contract with the Sheriff for dispatching duties in the future.
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.
A second public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6 at the fifth floor public chamber of the Clark County Offices, 50 E. Columbia St.
September 2013: Casino money might help pay for combined dispatch
March 2014: County dispatch to save German Twp. $30K
September 2015: Combined 911 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