A E-911 review and timeline

Editor’s Note: This is a Emergency-911 review and timeline identifying key dates, decisions, and commentary on the Marshall County Communications Commission. It details its funding, and specifically, how it impacts the city of Marshalltown’s current budget process. Earlier this year, a new Marshall County Communications Commission was created establishing a countywide E-911 levy dedicated to funding all Communications Center salaries and benefits. However, before and after the new agreement was adopted, several city residents made statements at city council or Marshall County Board of Supervisor meetings about the city’s plans for an estimated $582,000 budgeted for E-911 salaries and benefits for city employees who would have staffed the center. Letters to the Editor were submitted by residents expressing concern, followed by an editorial in the Times-Republican written by Publisher Mike Schlesinger. Much of the material below was taken from news reports written by T-R reporter Adam Sodders.

Dec. 28, 2017: The Local Emergency Management Commission voted 6-3 in favor of 911 services 28E agreement. The three “no” vote came from Albion representative Eric Schmidt, Laurel representative Evan Folk and Liscomb Mayor Hank Penner, according to meeting minutes. The “yes” votes came from Marshall County Board of Supervisors and LEMC Chairman Bill Patten, Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman, Marshalltown Mayor Jim Lowrance, Ferguson Mayor Dale Thompson, Le Grand Mayor Jay Wyatt and Melbourne Mayor John White. The commission is made up of Marshall County mayors and their designees, along with Patten and Hoffman.

Jan. 10, 2018: E-911 agreement adopted. After months of preparation, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors joined three partners in adopting a 28E agreement to oversee a county-wide levy for 911 employee salaries and benefits . “Big cities, little cities, unincorporated cities, farm people and people who just live out there: they all need 911, it’s important,” said Board Chairman Bill Patten on the resolution to adopt the agreement. The board had tabled the item during the Nov. 28, 2017 regular meeting, and decided 3-0 to bring it “off the table” to discuss and vote on the resolution. With a motion by board member Steve Salasek and a second by Patten, the resolution itself passed in a 2-1 vote; board Vice Chairman Dave Thompson voted against the adoption. The agreement creates a commission to oversee a levy for an estimated $992,412 in 911 employee salaries and benefits. That cost has previously been split 62 percent to 38 percent between the city and county, respectively, since the 1980s.

Commentary: “I cannot be complicit in supporting anything that is possibly going to lead to double taxation of the citizens of Marshalltown, and therefore I vote no,” Thompson said. Two attendees spoke on their concerns about transparency from the Marshalltown city government at the meeting, wanting to know how an estimated $580,000 budgeted for 911 salaries and benefits by the city will be used with the passing of the agreement.

“I don’t understand why we’re pushing, and why this is such a rush to do this,” said American Aluminum Seating Inc. part owner and county resident Jim Palmer. “I feel, at this moment, the city is pushing to get this agreement through without giving answers that have been requested.”

City resident and businessman Monte Eaton shared Palmer’s message that the issue should be postponed.

“There’s absolutely no reason not to postpone it until the city has their full council, they’re missing the second ward (councilor),” he said. “I personally think it should be postponed … there’s no loss of service, there’s no loss in personnel, there’s no loss in performance.

Jan. 29, 2018: At a city council budget meeting for FY 2019 (beginning July 1, 2018, and ending June 30, 2019) Marshalltown resident Reed Riskedahl asked the council not to treat the previous E-911 levy of $582,000 as “found” money for the city’s FY 2019 budget. He referred to the new Marshall County Communications Commission which will levy property taxes county-wide and apply levies on cell phones and land lines. The revenue will pay for E-911 staff pay, benefits and equipment upgrades.

“I identified this issue publicly in June and November, and my comments have been ignored.” Riskedahl alleged.

In a recent letter to the editor, Riskedahl wrote: “So, the way this stands now, both the city and the new E911 commission will be levying property taxes that will result in increased costs to residents.”

Feb. 1: Riskedahl sends email to Marshalltown mayor, city council expressing concerns about the $582,000.

“I am writing asking you give direction to our city administrator and finance director to correct their budget information in regard to the below information, as it is provided to you in your packets which is publicly available,” he wrote. “By now, I believe you know the issue that I have championed: the change in the funding of the new E-911 system. This has been $582,000 tax collection and subsequent contribution, which has been part of your tax asking under the .810 limit.

Feb. 5: Second city council budget meeting on FY 19 budget. Riskedahl also wanted further discussion on the E-911 funding issue after the final agenda item was discussed Monday.

However, no comments were taken and the meeting was adjourned. Mayor Joel Greer told the Times-Republican, “Jessica (Kinser) is preparing an answer to Reed’s questions and concerns.”

Feb. 6: Riskedahl tells the T-R he “does not have an axe to grind, and respects City Administrator Jessica Kinser as a highly-skilled professional.”

However, he re-iterated his frustration with city officials.

“In June (of 2017) I sat on a study group about making the E911 Commission a separate taxing entity, I asked Mayor Jim Lowrance and Kinser if the city would reduce the budgeted tax asking by the amount that the city had collected and distributed to E911 employees. After a significant amount of time and a private conversation with Kinser, The mayor told me that it would be taken up in the budgeting process. At that same June meeting, I stated that if the city continued to collect this money and kept it for other uses, that once the public became aware of this, there would be a public outcry.

Riskedahl said he has followed all normal channels in asking that this matter be addressed.

The Marshall County E-911 Communications Center overview: It currently conducts operations in the basement of the Marshalltown Police Department, 22 N. Center St. (It will move to the new, joint Marshalltown Fire Department-Police Department facility under construction in he 900 block of South Second Street. It is estimated the facility will open in December). The center is staffed 24 hours, 7 days per week with operators on duty. It is responsible for answering all emergency 911 calls placed within Marshall County. The center dispatches for the entire county, including the Marshalltown Police Department, Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, volunteer fire departments and police in the smaller communities throughout the county. Salary and benefit costs for the communications center previously paid by the city of Marshalltown was 62 percent, and Marshall County, 38 percent. Those figures reflected census data 62 percent of the county’s population resided in Marshalltown, and 38 percent in the country.