Communications center funding options discussed

By Xiomara Levsen, The JOURNAL


During a work session Tuesday morning, funding options were discussed for the new communications center in the supervisors room at the courthouse.

There are three options the county has available for funding the new building. Those options are: have a bond referendum vote, use the emergency management services levy or apply for grants to help pay for some of the cost of the new building.

Bob Jostens, partner in the Dorsey and Whitney firm in Des Moines, was also a part of the conversation.

He talked about how Johnson County structured their tax levy to pay for its communications center.

Jostens said Johnson County used a separate levy in their general fund from the Emergency Management Authority (EMA) for their project, which is an option that Washington County could consider.

Jostens asked if there was a levy for its EMA currently in Washington County.

Washington County inoformation technology director Cyndie Sinn said there is one that is part of the general supplemental levy, but not a specific levy for the EMA.

?I guess we need to know how much annually has been going to that activity?? Jostens asked. ?Do we have any sense of that??

?It?s around $56,000 give or take, but it?s levied under the general supplement fund under support to the Emergency Management Agency,? Sinn replied.

Supervisors Jack Seward Jr. asked Sinn if this was just the county?s portion or the city?s as well.

Since last year, it includes the county?s plus all the city?s, Sinn said.

Washington County sheriff Jared Schneider said the county has all the pieces to use a levy to pay for the new building, but the big difference between Washington County and how Johnson County has theirs is the structuring of the levy. Washington County?s communications commission is separate from EMA.

?The question for us is if that?s the route we?re going to go ? how do we take those same pieces that they (JEC) has in place and make it work in a similar way that they?re using up there?? Schneider said.

Jostens agreed with Schneider. He said if Washington County could go this route, its what they would need to do. They would need to figure out legally how to provide more funds legally to that EMA entity, so there is money that can go back to the general fund to pay the debt service on the building.

Washington County Sheriff Department?s chief deputy Shawn Ellingson asked Jostens how a regular levy for EMA would differ from the general supplemental levy the county is using now.

?Well, it?s a category under supplemental levies for counties,? Jostens said, ?which says specifically you can have a levy for the Emergency Management Agency. It seems to me from what you?re saying that isn?t how you?re specifically doing it, but maybe it is because it?s all under a listing of specific activities for which there can be a levy.?

Seward said if they do decide to go this route they would have to restructure communications and EMA to pay for the operations through an EMA levy, and he would be in favor of that.

?The other option is to have a referendum; and that requires, in order to be approved, a 60 percent voter approval,? Jostens said. ?That is the way to finance county buildings generically, so that is an option here.?

There was also discussion about applying for a grant from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation. The previous grant application the county submitted was for the equipment. This grant application would be specifically for the building project.

Supervisor Richard Young said the supervisors needed to make a decision on what is best for the county and what would cost the least amount of money to get this project done.

Seward suggested they take the three options to the E911, Communications Commission and Emergency Management boards and let them decide.

Washington County treasurer Jeff Garrett said he was concerned about the timeline needed to restructure the EMA levy, because it sounded as if it would be a long process.

Schneider said either way things need to move forward with the building project because the build-out timeline for the radio equipment at the earliest is July 2019 and he had concerns about whether or not the equipment being used now would last that long.

No formal decisions were made on the financing options presented during the work session. The Communications Commission, E911 and Emergency Management boards will give their input on these items before any decision is made.