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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. 

BRITT | The city of Britt is asking the Hancock County Board of Supervisors to treat all cities the same when it comes to reducing the 2018-19 communications allocations.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the city council voiced concerns about Britt’s proposed $44,403.88 charge for county dispatch services — a $16,831.26, or 61 percent, increase over the previous year — as it proceeds with budgeting for next fiscal year.

The council’s discussion came more than a week after the county board 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.

“Though those cities may have a lower population, they also have lower bills,” said Mayor Ryan Arndorfer. “I’ll take their bills, and they can have our bills.”

In January, the supervisors decided to revert the county’s four smallest 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.

The county board’s decision was made after Goodell City Clerk Daisy Huffman, on behalf of the city council, asked the board if it would reduce or review the city’s increased charge for county dispatch that it was unlikely to pay.

With the county board’s action, the cities of Britt (population of 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, while Corwith, Crystal Lake, Goodell and Woden would pay a total $7,952 next fiscal year for dispatch services.

“We used to not care very much because we didn’t have to pay very much,” Arndorfer said. “Now we’re paying for 50 percent of it.”

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.

However, there isn’t a 28E agreement or other contract between Hancock County and the cities for dispatch services.

“Why were we paying it if we have no agreement or contract?” said Councilman Chad Luecht.

Arndorfer said it’s because the county sent a bill.

Prior to the county’s formula change in 2017-18, the cities paid about $59,922, or nearly 16 percent, of the communications center budget. This year, the cities were initially asked to pay $156,296.63 of the total communications budget, while the county paid the rest. The proposed 2018-19 budget is $416,791, a $28,518 increase from last year.

“What happens if we say no to (paying) this?” Councilman Paul Verbrugge said.

Arndorfer said, “In theory, they could not answer 911 calls.”

Councilman Curt Gast said that doesn’t make sense because the city’s residents pay an E911 surcharge for their landline and cell phone.

Buffington said E911 funds are used for some training and radio equipment if needed, but it’s not allowed to be used for salaries or benefits.

The proposed budget increase for the communications center is attributed to multiple factors: a 3.5 percent wage increase for the six full-time employees, a $10,000 increase in part-time wages to cover all dispatchers while they’re obtaining emergency medical dispatcher, or EMD, certification, and a $20,000 increase to provide data-processing services to all public safety agencies in Hancock County, he said last month.

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, but Arndorfer said he’d like to know whether the city is required to pay the communications allocation before the council’s next meeting on Feb. 20.

“If Earl (Hill, city attorney) can’t figure it out, then we need to find an attorney who can answer that question for us,” he said.

In other city news:

  • The city council postponed its public hearing for the budget. It will not be held Feb. 13.
  • Public Works Director Vance Hagen told the city council the Iowa Department of Transportation and the railroad have been talking about adding crossing arms on Main Avenue next summer and wanted the city involved in the conversation.
  • Police Chief Dan Cummings said Bradley Hillyer started as the department’s newest full-time officer on Feb. 5. He fills the position formerly held by Cody Schutjer, who resigned earlier this year.
  • Hagen voiced concerns about snow removal on Main Avenue because city property has recently been damaged by large equipment. The city council expressed interest in establishing an ordinance for snow removal.
  • The city council gave Hagen the go-ahead to offer Logan Weiland of Britt the vacant public works department position at $14.50 an hour.
  • The city council has voted to amend its 28E agreement with the rural fire department to split trucks and equipment 50-50 and waive the rural rent. The agreement will be renegotiated in 20 years. Three city officials and three rural officials will sit on the governing board.
  • The city council decided to draft a letter of interest for a rental property inspection program to the North Iowa Area Council of Governments. The cities of Garner and Forest City have also expressed interest. Interim City Administrator Cindy Kendall said some cities use the program as a basis to “minimize some of the nuisances” they encounter.

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

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