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Kevin Knebel 911 dispatch

Kevin Knebel works as a 911 dispatcher at the Winnebago County Law Enforcement Center in August 2016. 

GARNER | Four Hancock County cities will receive a break on their 2018-19 communications allocations.

On Monday, Jan. 29, the Hancock County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to reduce the charge for county dispatch services for Corwith, Crystal Lake, Goodell and Woden — cities with populations under 500 — by 60 percent, or $11,928.42, total.

The county board decided to revert the four cities back to paying the 2016-17 rate of 15 percent of the total communications budget, while the cities of Britt, Garner, Kanawha and Klemme will remain at the 2018-19 rate of 37.5 percent.

“I’m not saying this is the greatest or wonderfulest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Jerry Tlach, county board chair. “It was a way to start at least.”

The cities in Hancock County are responsible for paying a portion of the total communications budget, while the county picks up the rest. The proposed 2018-19 budget is $416,791, a $28,518 increase from last year.

In 2017, the county board changed the formula to fund the communications center from one that was "extremely confusing at best" to one based on cities’ per capita in the 2010 U.S. Census, said Andy Buffington, Hancock County Communications, Zoning and E911 director.

He said it was the supervisors' goal in changing the formula to have the cities and Hancock County split the communications budget 50-50. To ease the transition, the board agreed to move from the old formula to the new over a three-year period.

In 2017-18, cities would pay 25 percent of the communication center’s total budget, and then in 2018-19, they’d pay 37.5 percent. In 2019-20, they’d pay 50 percent.

The cities paid about $59,922, or nearly 16 percent, of the communications center budget prior to the formula change in 2017-18, Buffington said.

The county board’s decision came just four days after Goodell City Clerk Daisy Huffman, on behalf of the city council, asked the board if it would reduce or review the city’s proposed $2,985 charge for county dispatch services — a $1,100 increase from the previous year.

“If there’s anything major, there’s no funds,” she told the supervisors Thursday, Jan. 25. “This is how dire things are in a lot of cities out there and I want you guys to be aware of it.”

Huffman said the city of Goodell’s property tax levy brings in about $14,722 to the general fund, and an emergency levy garners about $491, which is the most it can request for its general fund.

Buffington said in emails received Jan. 29 and 30, the number of calls for service from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, generated within the city limits of Goodell was 52, which was less than 1 percent of its total 9,169. The total includes 779 calls for administrative tracking purposes, like arrest warrant entries and recalls, tornado siren tests, 911 tests, hang-ups and misdials.

At Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Ron Sweers suggested eliminating Goodell’s dispatch services fee and keeping the other cities the same, which wasn’t backed by supervisors Tlach and Sis Greiman.

“I just don’t see how Goodell’s operating,” Sweers said. “I couldn’t operate on $15,000 and do water, sewer and everything else.”

Sweers said he didn’t want to see the city of Goodell unincorporate because the city’s operations, including utilities and roads, would then become the county’s responsibility — and expense.

“We’re not interested in that at all,” he said.

With the county board’s recent action, Corwith (population of 309), will pay about $2,651; Crystal Lake (250), will pay about $2,144; Goodell (139) will pay about $1,194; and Woden (229) will pay about $1,963 in 2018-19.

“I think they need to have some skin in the game,” Tlach said.

Huffman, who was in attendance, welcomed the reduction, stating it’s better than the $2,905 Goodell was originally scheduled to pay in 2018-19.

The cities of Britt (2,069) will pay about $44,404; Garner (3,129) will pay about $67,145; Kanawha (652) will pay about $13,989; and Klemme (507) will pay about $10,878 next fiscal year for dispatch services.

Michelle Eisenman, Hancock County auditor, said the $11,928 the four cities aren’t paying will reduce the county’s revenue, which means that portion of the communications budget will have to be covered by another source of revenue.

The supervisors agreed to discuss the communications allocation formula again this spring with city officials ahead of the 2019-20 budget process in hopes of addressing others’ concerns.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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