Carroll leaders: Other cities should pay for comm center, too
All cities in Carroll County should pay their fair share of the cost to operate the county emergency communications center, said Gerald Clausen, the city manager of Carroll, which is the only city that pays right now.
Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler
Dispatchers at the communications center handle all of the county's 911 calls and some non-emergency calls to police departments and the Carroll County Sheriff's office. The City of Carroll and Carroll County currently split the $350,000 annual cost of the center, some of which is paid by a surcharge on telephones and cellphones.
But the center's leadership shifted on Monday when Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler asked not to be reappointed this year as its communications officer, who oversees the center's operation and employees. Sheriff Doug Bass was appointed by the communications commission to replace Cayler, who did the job for decades.
"This is an unpaid position that takes an enormous amount of time," Cayler told the Daily Times Herald. "I just really need to devote time to my primary position as chief of police. The norm throughout the state is that the sheriff runs the county communications center."
Bass said the move is "not a problem" and that residents shouldn't notice any changes in service.
The switch nudged commission members - who include city leaders and county supervisors - to re-evaluate how they pay for the center because its employees will shift from the city's payroll to the county's.
Carroll city leaders aired a long-standing grievance that they are the only incorporated city that pays for the center.
"No other cities in the county pays anything," Clausen said at Monday's meeting. "Is this an equitable arrangement? Several people have come to me and said it's not."
Manning had its own emergency communications center that closed more than a decade ago. Its dispatching duties moved to Carroll, but the city pays no money.
Manning Mayor Harvey Dales could not recall how much the city saved when it closed the center, and he was reluctant today to pay for part of the Carroll center's operations.
"Everybody has to share in the burden a little bit - the question is how much," he said. "Without seeing actually what they're talking about, and seeing some kind of a budget that shows where it's at and where the needs are and where the problems are, I'd be a little hesitant to make any commitment."
The county communications center dispatches for police departments in Carroll, Coon Rapids and Manning, the sheriff's office, 13 fire departments, and ambulances and first responders, Cayler said. It is located in the basement of the Carroll County Courthouse.
"From our perspective, we've always wondered why we were the only entity in the county who pays," Cayler said Monday.
Templeton Mayor Ken Behrens pushed back on the idea that his town should pay, in an interview with the Time Herald.
"I don't think it's an apples-to-apples comparison," he said today. "The situation is different for Templeton versus Carroll. ... Our fire department is not a city fire department, it's a community department. We cover a good portion of the county."
Templeton does not have a police department and instead pays the county for its sheriff's department to handle crime there, Behrens said.
Carroll Mayor Adam Schweers agreed that it might be difficult to find an equitable split for the county communications center's costs.
"I have a hard time fathoming that we would list this on a per-call basis," he said. "Your formula is going to get pretty complicated pretty quick."
There is no easy way to list the percentage of emergency calls for each town in the county, Cayler said. Other Iowa counties have split the costs based on population or by creating a county-wide property tax.
For now, Carroll will pay all the center's costs and get reimbursed by the county. The center has a budget of $340,113 for this fiscal year, which ends in June. The phone surcharge pays for $25,000 of that total, and the City of Carroll and Carroll County split the difference.
Cayler asked the commission Monday to reverse the process so that the county pays the up-front costs and is reimbursed by the city.
That led commissioner Gene Meiners, a county supervisor, to suggest that the communications center be administered solely through the county and that the communications commission be disbanded.
Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue over the next several months and meet again in the spring.
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