Public Safety & Homeland Security

Panel Recommends no Public Safety Tax Dollars for Township Fire Departments

To improve countywide services, Monroe County’s emergency dispatch center requested a larger portion of public safety local income tax dollars.

by Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. / August 11, 2017
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(TNS) - Local township fire departments will receive none of the public safety local income tax dollars to be allocated to the county next year.

That was the recommendation of the Monroe County, Ind., Income Tax Council's Public Safety Local Income Tax Committee on Thursday.

In an effort to improve countywide services, Monroe County’s emergency dispatch center requested a larger portion of public safety local income tax dollars — an estimated $2.87 million. The increase is due to a desire to hire six additional dispatchers and designating around $800,000 in public safety local income tax dollars to procure mobile data terminals and radios for township fire departments in an effort to standardize and improve communication.

But the trade-off means that the requests from the local township fire departments for various needs, such as replacing expiring equipment and bolstering staffing levels, will go unfunded from the public safety local income tax next year.

“I think it is the most fair and equitable thing to do,” said Allison Chopra, a member of the Bloomington City Council who is on the local income tax committee.

She said the dispatch policy board is representative of all of Monroe County and the project is a benefit to every person in the county, regardless of where they live.

Other committee members, such as fellow city council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith, felt the dispatch budget could have been reduced to include at least funding for the construction of the Washington Township fire station and for two firefighter positions for Perry-Clear Creek Fire District. Funding in the amount of $50,000 was approved last year by the same committee, but was never distributed.

Piedmont-Smith said that reducing the dispatch budget just slightly would have allowed officials to implement the communications project and still fund an important project to improve public safety.

"I really see this as a win-win," Piedmont-Smith said. But a motion to reduce the dispatch center's budget to allow this failed.

The dispatch center's proposal does not only affect the local townships, but also the portion of public safety local income tax dollars the city, towns and county have for specific needs. According to estimates provided at the meeting, the city, towns and county are projected to receive around $29,000 less in public safety local income tax dollars than last year.

Any additional allocation to local township fire departments would have meant the city, towns and county would have received even less public safety local income tax funding for each unit's specific public safety needs. Some officials were hesitant to reduce their entity's portion of the public safety local income tax revenue further by allocating money to the local township fire departments.

The committee’s recommendation will now go before the Monroe County Income Tax Council, which is made up of the Bloomington City Council, the county council and the Ellettsville and Stinesville town councils.

Each fiscal body on the income tax council has a fixed number of votes, based on population. The Bloomington City Council has the simple majority with 59 votes, the county has 34, Ellettsville has five and Stinesville, because of its low population, is a nonvoting member.

At separate meetings, each fiscal body will have to approve the same resolution, with an approval by a fiscal body equivalent to its casting its allotted votes on the income tax council.

City of Bloomington Corporation Counsel Philippa Guthrie said each fiscal body can introduce an alternative to the recommendation, but would still have to secure enough votes on the income tax council to make it effective — except, theoretically, the Bloomington City Council, which has a simple majority.

The income tax council has until the end of October to take action to ensure the public safety income tax law remains in effect next year.

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©2017 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)

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