The Carroll Police Department is one of the agencies whose calls are routed through the Carroll City/County Communications Center. Pictured are (from left) former Police Chief Jeff Cayler, Sgt. Gary Bellinghausen, former Capt. Mark Heino and current Police Chief Brad Burke.
The Carroll Police Department is one of the agencies whose calls are routed through the Carroll City/County Communications Center. Pictured are (from left) former Police Chief Jeff Cayler, Sgt. Gary Bellinghausen, former Capt. Mark Heino and current Police Chief Brad Burke.

February 2, 2018

Carroll city and county leaders have agreed to discuss whether Carroll city residents are unfairly taxed, under a 30-year-old agreement, to fund the communications center that handles the county’s 911 calls.

During a city budget planning meeting Monday, several Carroll City Council members spoke with Jason Hoffman, the communications center supervisor and 911 coordinator, as well as county supervisors Gene Meiners and Rich Ruggles and Sheriff Ken Pingrey about the funding for the center. The portion of the budget that comes from property taxes is split half and half between the City of Carroll and Carroll County, according to the bylaws of the Carroll City/County Communications Commission, which were established in 1987.

But that means that Carroll city residents are paying twice — through city and county taxes — while other Carroll County residents pay for the communications center only once through their county taxes, city leaders noted.

“Fifty percent of the income is from Carroll city taxpayers, and on the other side, there’s the amount of money county taxpayers pay, which our (city) citizens pay again,” City Council member LaVern Dirkx said. “Why not put all other cities into the city part (of the funding) to make it fair and even? It looks like we’re getting taxed through the city and county and other cities are just taxed through the county, and I’m asking the reason.”

A commission of representatives from Carroll County and the City of Carroll oversees the communications center. Agreements penned in 1975 and again in 1987 lay out guidelines for the commission, noting its members determine who funds the communications center and how.

The agreement hasn’t been updated since 1987, although city and county officials discussed changing the funding mechanism several years ago and chose to leave it untouched.

“Nobody knows why this was set up this way,” said Meiners, now a member of the five-person commission that runs the center. “Everyone’s been happy the way it has been. There’s all kinds of formulas you can (use), but I remember when we visited (the topic) in the last six years or so, it was decided to leave it the way it was.”

Jeff Cayler, who was Carroll’s police chief when the agreement was re-signed in 1987, said he didn’t recall discussions at the time of why Carroll paid city taxes for the center while other cities didn’t, although the conversation came up later throughout the years.

“When I brought it up in the past, the response I usually got from supervisors on the commission was, ‘(The other cities) pay county taxes,’ and my response was, ‘You think people in Carroll don’t pay (county) taxes?’” Cayler said.

The center handles calls related to the Carroll Police Department, the Manning Police Department, the Coon Rapids Police Department, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s 12 fire departments — in every city except for Willey, the countywide ambulance service and first responders in various cities throughout the county.

A separate funding source for the center comes from the county’s E-911 Service Board, which draws funds from surcharges on landlines and cellphones, as well as occasional grants. Those funds can be used to pay only for the receipt and processing of 911 calls, Hoffman said.

Of the calls for service routed through the communications center in 2017, about 70 percent came from or for the Carroll Police Department, according to information from the center. About 5 percent came from Manning, 3 percent from Coon Rapids and the remaining 22 percent applied to the rest of the county.

Those proportions remain largely the same when applied to fire or emergency medical services calls coming from those locations.

Calls for service include 911 calls as well as police officers’ foot-patrol notices and routine calls made during traffic stops, both of which typically can be completed in seconds, Carroll Police Chief Brad Burke said.

In 2017, of the 9,652 calls the communications center intercepted for the Carroll Police Department, 4,166 of those were from officers calling in a traffic stop, and another 886 were from officers notifying the center about a foot patrol — meaning more than half the calls included on the list for the police department were routine department calls rather than 911 calls.

The city isn’t looking to change the funding mechanism for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, but rather to discuss the funding setup for the future and determine if the guidelines set 30 years ago still make sense, city officials said.

“It should be made very clear we appreciate your services,” Council member Clay Haley told Hoffman. “You’re doing a great job. This has nothing to do with performance with the county’s administration or you and your team’s work. You guys do great.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, 50 percent of the center’s property-tax-based funding comes from the City of Carroll and 50 from the county. The City of Carroll’s contribution to the county funding portion is about 18 percent of the whole, bringing the contribution from Carroll taxpayers to about 70 percent of the property-tax funding for the center — which Hoffman compared witho the 70 percent of calls to the center that come from the City of Carroll.

The remaining chunks of the county funding are based on taxable valuation in each area of the county and include 24 percent coming from the county’s rural areas outside of city limits. Other cities’ contributions through county taxes range from 1.4 percent from Coon Rapids and 1.37 percent from Manning to .07 percent from Willey.

None of the county’s 12 cities other than Carroll fund the center through city taxes.

“If you wanted to look at the call volume and divide up the expenses, I think the way it’s currently divided up, it doesn’t seem unfair to me, to the City of Carroll,” Hoffman said. “Whether or not it’s unfair that Manning or Coon Rapids or any other community doesn’t contribute to the operating budget of the communications center (through city taxes), I guess it’s a point of debate that could be had and I understand that position, but it just kind of seemed to me like the City of Carroll seems to be getting a fair shake in this situation.”

However, City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver said, even if the center no longer took calls for the City of Carroll, it would still need to operate.

At least one dispatcher is required to be on duty at the center at all times, meaning dispatchers work 8,760 hours a year just to keep the center open.

Calculating out the total number of hours six full-time employees work in a year, not accounting for vacation, holiday, sick time or training, comes to 12,480 hours, creating an overlap of 3,720 hours of work beyond the basic commitment of keeping the center open and running.

At that point, the additional work could be applied to the extra calls the center receives from the City of Carroll, Pogge-Weaver said. But that’s only about 30 percent of the total hours worked by dispatchers.

And with that measure, having the city fund 70 percent of the center’s tax-based budget doesn’t make sense, he said.

“Even at a minimum, 70 percent of the (dispatchers’) labor is needed just to provide minimum 24/7 coverage,” Pogge-Weaver said. “How is it equitable that the City of Carroll has to pay the total cost (of that 70 percent)?”

Mayor Eric Jensen echoed the concern that Carroll residents are taxed twice.

“If I live in Coon Rapids, I only pay once, or Manning, I only pay once; I’m just getting assessed on the county side, not the city side,” Jensen said. “An individual who lives in town in Carroll pays twice. … You look at usage, I get that, but the service still has to be available for them too, so where do you start making that up?

The city, we’re still responsible to the city taxpayer, by saying, ‘Hey, somewhere along the line we have to have a timeout here.’”