Supervisors Set To Battle E911 Funding Options

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors approved Resolution #2017-19, a bonding measure issued on Local Option Sales Tax for the construction of a County Environmental Learning Center and the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of county roads and bridges.

The total amount of $4,955,000.00 in general obligation bonds was approved to pay those costs and was entered into with Northland Securities.

The final bond payment is scheduled to be in 2037 on this measure.

David Wilke has been added to the payroll of the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office. Wilke filled the position opened when Trevor Wells retired.

The supervisors denied a request from United Way to make a presentation to county employees about payroll contributions. “If you allow one in, you have to allow the others in,” said board chair Mark Doland about letting United Way in to make a presentation for charity. “If the employees want to give that’s one thing, they want to voluntarily contribute, that’s okay. To be solicited through your place of work, I don’t think that’s probably something I guess I would support.”

The supervisors will allow United Way to include an envelope during the pay cycle as has been the custom in the past.

The supervisors approved builders risk insurance for the new environmental learning center.

The urban renewal report was approved for filing. That report will cover CoLine Welding, the business who applied for the program during its expansion.

The tenth item on the agenda was to consider time adjustment for General Assistance Director job description. The item was placed there by supervisor Willie Van Weelden.

Doland said to scratch that agenda item and to talk about it at budget time, and began to move on to the next item.

Van Weelden looked confused and said, “we’re going to do what now?”

Van Weelden asked Doland why he was moving past that item until budget time, “it’s been approved for this year?”

“Yeah,” replied Doland.

“What’s going to change,” asked Van Weelden.

“That’s what we’ll discuss at budget time,” replied Doland. “The funding for sure.”

A disagreement took place in regards to how the position is financed, and Van Weelden said that case management is different than mental health.

Van Weelden said that the case management funding allowed the county to be reimbursed by the state.

Doland said the position was paid for by bills coming through the region.

Van Weelden disagreed.

“Yes it was,” said Doland. “I sit on the board. I’m pretty sure that I know where the money comes from and where it went to.”

“Something changed, and I wasn’t aware of it,” questioned Van Weelden.

“Well for the last two years, it hasn’t been that way,” said Doland.

“Why was it changed? Why weren’t we aware of that then?” replied Van Weelden.

“She [county employee] was doing bills for the region,” said Doland. “That’s where that twenty percent came from.”

“That twenty percent was supposed to be assisting case management,” replied Van Weelden.

Doland said that for the past two years, the position had been paid for out of the regional mental health funding.

“So, we are going to leave it [position] full time until next budget?” asked Van Weelden.

The next budget will begin July 1st of 2018.

“Yeah, nothing’s changing right now,” said Doland. “We’re going to discuss it at budget time in January.”

The supervisors then discussed funding for a new radio system for emergency responders and operating costs for the emergency 911 center.

In 2015, Mahaska County Emergency Management took over E911 when members of both boards agreed to have emergency management manage the dispatchers and equipment. Along with that move went the surcharge dollars that are used according to state statute.

In a letter to the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission attorney Carlton Salmons stated that, “It is no secret the radio system used presently by EMC [Emergency Management Commission] in Mahaska County is old, decrepit, non-functioning for one or more reasons and has become obsolete and unrepairable. A new system is needed, and the EMC is presently working towards the goal of having that new system designed so that it can be let for bids and eventually constructed. While the costs of constructing that system cannot be presently determined until estimates are obtained, it is immediately clear that EMC’s budget, based solely on continuing receipt of 911 surcharge funding from the Service Commission, will be vastly insufficient to purchase and operate any newly designed and installed radio system.”

In his letter, Salmons stated Iowa Code Section 29C.17(1) that makes the EMC Commission the “fiscal authority” over the “local emergency management fund.”

The commission files and certifies a yearly budget, and before a change in code from the State of Iowa, used to receive its dollars from a per capita formula. Since that change, where emergency management became its own municipality, the funding started to come from a levy.

The Emergency Management Commission is comprised of elected officials from each city within the county, including a representative from the board of supervisors and the Mahaska County Sheriff.

After the last EMC meeting, Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk raised concerns about the levy system and suggested that the commission return to the per-capita formula.

The radio system upgrades are part of the original E911 board, which is now managed by emergency management but still only funded by phone surcharge money.

An argument is now setting up between the Mahaska County Supervisors and the Emergency Management Commission as to how the agency will be funded going forward. The legal wrangling is one of several the county is currently taking part.

A letter is being drafted by the county and being sent to the State of Iowa for clarification on the ability of the EMC to levy taxes. That response could take six months, and until then, the commission will be scrambling to find a way to prepare its budget for the next fiscal year.

“The rural is carrying more than their share,” said Van Weelden in Monday’s board of supervisors meeting of the current funding structure for EMC.

The supervisors believe that the per-capita formula allows the funding to be more equitable.

Groenendyk said that every municipality has their own representative and a member of the board of supervisors. “I guess as a supervisor I’m trying to represent the whole, and I assume the sheriff would be too, but who’s suppose to speak for the entity that doesn’t have a representative.”

“That’s the whole entanglement. I’m supposed to represent the whole, but one part of our county does not have a, I guess a representative so to say. An unbiased representative” added Groenendyk.

“A 100% representative compared to the others,” added Van Weelden.

Doland said that the expenses with EMA have grown, stating that there was an additional full-time employee added.

When EMA took over E911, the former director had resigned, and the EMA director Jamey Robinson was tasked with both. Another employee was then hired to assist EMA and E911, filling that vacant position.

“There’s quite a bit more expenses going on there then what we anticipated,” said Doland. “Why? Because they don’t think we have any enforcement over our own budget. I think that’s the conflict that came up with Carl. Carl has an interpretation of the law that there’s nothing we can do to make sure they are remaining under a cap. But we have final authority over our budget according to ISAC [Iowa State Association of Counties] and some others I think.”

“I think that we should make a recommendation that they just go back to the per-capita,” added Doland.

“It’s never been tried in court,” said Doland of the funding sources for E911 and emergency management. “The legislature has written the law two different ways, and it needs to be addressed probably through the legislature.”

The battle between the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors and E911 and Emergency Management to raise funds for the radio system is set in place.

“The only way it’s going to be solved is either through the legal opinion from the attorney general; or we just say this year, this is how much you have to spend, that’s it,” said Doland.

“At some point, if you can’t convince them [cities] that they need to pay their fair share, you have to do something about it,” said Doland. “You’re going to have to force it, and the mechanism we have to that is through the levy.”

The supervisors made the recommendation to share with the EMC that they should fund the new radio system and operations from the per-capita model and not use the levy. ‘I think that would be our strong suggestion,” said Doland of the discussion item.

The final item on the agenda Monday was sending a letter of support to the Iowa DOT in support of the NW Bypass project.

The supervisors will draft a letter of support for the project and send it to the Iowa DOT.

The next scheduled meeting of the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors is November 20th at 9 am in the 3rd-floor conference room of the Mahaska County Courthouse.

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