Court Case Has Implications For Mahaska County Taxpayers

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The taxpayers of Mahaska County are awaiting a judge’s ruling at the Mahaska County Supervisors’ request.

The request is to not collect a tax they believe is “unlawful levy on county citizens based on an illegal and ultra vires public contract.”

That tax is collected to provide funding for Mahaska County Emergency Management and the operation of the 911 Dispatch Center for the E911 Service Board.

The E911 Service Board has a 28E Agreement with Emergency Management to run the 911 Dispatch Center.

The E-911 Service Board approached the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission before their 2015 28E Agreement, asking for assistance in running the 911 Center after their director’s departure.

Questions were brought up about surcharge usage and if it was used to pay for salaries, a violation of state law before the agreement.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into when we took it,” added Mahaska County Emergency Management EMA/911 Administrator Jamey Robinson. “Because none of that information was shared with us.”

Previous 911 Boards, before the agreement, typically met twice a year to approve a budget and provided little other guidance to the previous 911 Director. That lack of oversight was also a driving factor in the agreement between the two boards.

“Not even the 911 Board people who were on it knew that they had thousands of hours of vacation they were sitting on,” explained Robinson.

District Court Judge Cronk back in December of 2019 had ruled that the 28E Agreement between the two entities was invalid.

The E911 Service Board held a meeting on January 2nd, 2020, after their previous 28E Agreement with Mahaska EMA was held invalid by a Mahaska County District Court Judge.

The judge expressed concerns over the Agreement because non-voting members of the 911 board had voted for the initial Agreement back in 2015.

The new 28E Agreement was voted on by the board’s correct members and addressed the clause to exit the Agreement, satisfying issues specified by the judge.

The Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission met following the E911 Service Board meeting and agreed to the new 28E Agreement.

Both boards approved the new 28E Agreement unanimously, except for Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk, who expressed his concerns about the new Agreement.

On June 16th, 2020, the Mahaska County Supervisors filed a Declaratory Judgement and Request for Injunctive Relief petition. “The levy Defendants [Emergency Management and E911 Board] seek to force Supervisors to impose must be collected from the taxpayers by September 30th, 2020, this matter is urgent. The County respectfully requests injunctive relief pending the Court’s final decision because requiring Supervisors to impose an illegal levy irreparably harms the County, burdens citizens the Supervisors are charged with protecting, and creates unnecessary future expense for the County when it would need to refund an improper levy.”

In his letter to the Court, Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk, who is also the County representative on the Emergency Management Commission and E911 Service Board, shared with the Court, “On February 20, 2020, the Emergency Management Commission by vote approved a $1,101,028 budget, including the 911 services on a special countywide levy the Commission mandates the Supervisors impose.”

“As the Supervisors’ representative on the Emergency Management Commission, I voted against the Emergency Management Commissions budget,” said Groenendyk in his statement. “The Board of Supervisors has not formally voted to approve the Emergency Management Commission budget for 911 services or the use of Supervisors special countywide levy for 911 services.”

In the budget supplied with the court documents, $189,118.08 is allocated for Emergency Management, while $885,868.39 is assigned to run 911 services in the County.

John Benson, the Chief of Staff of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, supervises the State 911 Director, who oversees the 911 services across the State of Iowa.

Benson shared in his affidavit to the Court, “Based on my experience in the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, it is not unusual for E-911 Service Boards to enter into 28E agreements with other entities related to public safety answering points (PSAPs)”

PSAPs are 911 centers that take phone calls and dispatch first responders.

“The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has on file an approved 911 Service Plan from the Mahaska County E-911 Service Board,” Benson stated.

Benson shared, “The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is concerned about the ability to provide call center services in Mahaska County if the temporary injunction is used and the funding of the PSAP is impacted. The Department believes that granting the temporary injunction could negatively impact the Mahaska County E-911 Service Board’s ability to fulfill its legal responsibilities.”

Benson explained that E-911 Services Board, like those in Mahaska County, is statutorily prohibited from using surcharge revenues to pay personnel costs for operating the 911 Center.

The 911 surcharges that phone users pay cover approximately 22 percent of the expenses of a 911 Center and the remaining 78 percent of the cost to run the services, “must be funded through sources other than the surcharge. Therefore, local entities have to reach agreement on how to cover the remaining costs of providing that vital public service,” explained Benson.

“The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has reviewed the 2020 28E agreement between the Mahaska County E-911 Service Board and Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission and has not raised any issues concerning the structure or operations of the PSAP,” Benson added in his statement.

In the most recent meeting of the Oskaloosa City Council, Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt expressed his concerns about the legal action regarding the agreement between the E-911 Board and Emergency Management.

“I understand that Mahaska County has asked the Court in the present case to temporarily enjoin the collection of the levy, which funds E-911 services in Mahaska County. As a member of the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission and as the Mayor of Oskaloosa, I would respectfully object to the Court taking that action.”

“There are a number of reasons for objecting to the action requested by Mahaska County. First, the structure approved by the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors and the representatives of all the cities in Mahaska County serving on the E-911 Service Board in 2015 placed the funding of the operating expenses of the call center under the Emergency Management Commission collected by Mahaska County as a part of its tax levy on all property owners within Mahaska County,” added Krutzfeldt.

Krutzfelt went on to talk about the challenge for funding after the requirement that budgets be submitted and approved by March 15th, and “The budget for operation of the E-911 PSAP for 2020-2021 was included within the Emergency Management Commission budget which is part of the Mahaska County budget and general fund levy.”

“If the funds are not collected through the tax, Mahaska County has not indicated how the operations of the PSAP would be met,” added Krutzfeldt.

If required to return to funding practices before 2015, “Oskaloosa would be required to come up with approximately $461,500 out of its previously approved budget. That would require cuts in multiple service areas for the City,” explained Krutzfeldt.

Some of those cuts that would be needed to raise that $461,500 would include;

  • Eliminating one police officer position and modifying the schedule for others.
  • Eliminating one firefighter position and modifying the schedule for others.
  • Consider cutting staffing for the township fire contracts or increasing fees charged.
  • Permanently closing Edmundson Pool.
  • Cutting one-half of the budget for the following community services:
  • Forest Cemetery
  • Animal Shelter
  • Chamber/Main Street
  • Cutting two-thirds of the budget for the Blighted/Nuisance Building Demolition Fund.
  • Cutting all funding for City Transit.
  • Eliminating two full-time library employees and reducing library hours.
  • Reducing contract mowing.
  • Eliminate general fund support of streetlights. We would then have to divert road use funds to cover this expense reducing available funding for street improvements and maintenance.

“If these cuts were implemented, they would adversely impact public safety in a number of ways for the residents of Oskaloosa, specifically with the elimination of police and fire coverage,” Krutzfeldt explained.

Krutzfeldt encouraged the Court to “maintain the status quo during the pendency of the lawsuit” “so that when a resident of the City of Oskaloosa or of unincorporated areas of Mahaska County calls 911 for fire, police, or other public safety issues, there is a timely and appropriate response.”

“I believe that the citizens of Mahaska County including the citizens of the City of Oskaloosa would be adversely impacted by the failure to collect and fund the operations of the E-911 call center,” said Krutzfeldt in closing.

According to public documents, the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors has spent on average 60,403.00 per month over the last three months on litigation.

It’s unclear from the reports if that money has been spent on the airport litigation and/or EMA-911 litigation.

The Emergency Management Commission and the E-911 Service Board each have attorneys representing them in the litigation and the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa regarding the ongoing court action over the regional airport. Those numbers were not immediately available.

Posted by on Jul 27 2020. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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