Indiana Daily Student

City Council considers shifting tax funds to benefit emergency dispatch services county-wide

<p>City council members listen as Mayor John Hamilton urges them to pass the two agenda items at at the city council meeting Wednesday evening. He endorsed Resolution 17-38, which would create a food and beverage tax of one percent to finance expansions on the Monroe County Convention Center, and Ordinance 17-39, which would authorize an annexation between the City of Bloomington and Cook Medical.&nbsp;</p>

City council members listen as Mayor John Hamilton urges them to pass the two agenda items at at the city council meeting Wednesday evening. He endorsed Resolution 17-38, which would create a food and beverage tax of one percent to finance expansions on the Monroe County Convention Center, and Ordinance 17-39, which would authorize an annexation between the City of Bloomington and Cook Medical. 

The Bloomington Common Council met for a special session to discuss proposed funds to revamp public safety services in Monroe County on Wednesday night.

The Public Safety Local Income Tax (PS LIT) Committee voted this summer to reject funding for locality-level projects, like improvements to specific fire departments, in favor of funding an overhaul of the emergency dispatch communication system in Monroe County.

The committee is a group responsible for reviewing applications requesting to use public safety tax revenues. Four city council members sit on this board: Allison Chopra, Dorothy Granger, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Susan Sandberg.

The PS LIT committee considered the recommendation of the Policy Board of Unified Central Dispatch for 2018 PSAP funding. PSAP, or Public Safety Answering Point, refers to a location that operates 24 hours a day with the primary purpose of receiving and relaying emergency requests. Emergency dispatch centers are the primary component of PSAP.

The council will not vote on the allocation until next week, but it debated the proposal Wednesday night. The PS LIT committee ultimately decided over the summer to request about $2.875 million to pay for six new 911 dispatchers to the Monroe County team. 

These funds would also be put toward the purchase of new emergency communication equipment, but this reallocation would leave no funding for other public safety projects.

"This is a departure from what we did last year," Chopra said.

The proposed ordinance would reallocate funds within the PS LIT for 2018 by increasing funds for the the dispatches and decreasing funds for general public safety purposes.

The latter category includes the police force, fire services, ambulances, emergency medical services, emergency action, probation departments and juvenile detention facilities.

In 2016, Monroe Country increased its total local income tax and dedicated this money to create a new funding pool now known as PS LIT. Seventy-one percent of this pool goes toward general public safety needs, and 29 percent was put toward PSAP. 

If the city council chooses to approve this recommendation, the funding for PSAP in 2018 would increase to 36.63 percent of that pool, and the money going to general public safety would decrease to 63.37 percent. 

No overall tax rates would increase. The proposal would simply reshuffle the flow of funds.

“This is going to be for the benefit of the entire county,” Sandberg said. “This will be for the funding of additional dispatchers that are needed because of some incredible shortages in that area, as well as a unified radio system that will ensure that everyone in the county can communicate and will cut down on response time.”

In a meeting July 25, Bloomington Chief of Police Mike Diekhoff explained that the additional six dispatchers requested would bring the number of fulltime dispatchers up to 29. Bloomington City Attorney Michael Rouker added that 29 dispatchers would still not meet the national standard for a dispatch center serving a county the size of Monroe.

The PS LIT Committee ultimately voted to put all of its available funding toward these requested PSAP changes, meaning that no additional projects on a local scale will be funded in 2018 if the ordinance is adopted.

“I’d like to add a minority report here,” Piedmont-Smith said. “I voted against the motion to fully fund the PSAP proposal. I thought the budget proposal itself was inflated. The numbers didn’t add up to me.”

If the common council chooses the adopt this ordinance, it will be casting all 58 votes it receives as a member of Monroe County Local Income Tax Council in favor of the proposal. 

The council will reconvene Oct. 11 to vote on the issue.

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