County will ask lawmaker to support 911 bill
Four of six Putnam County Council members agreed Tuesday to support a state law change that would allow use of county hazardous waste funds for construction of a new central dispatch/emergency operations center.
The sticking point in the discussion came in also designating funding for the township that hosts the state's only hazardous waste landfill -- Heritage Environmental near Russellville.
County Emergency Management Director Kim Hyten and Dispatch Director David Costin presented a letter that was endorsed Monday evening by the county commissioners. Feedback from Sen. Connie Lawson indicates she will support the law change if an agreement exists among the commissioners and council.
The proposal to Sen. Lawson requests a change that would allow for "paying the costs associated with the construction of a facility to be used for county central dispatch in conjunction with emergency operations center for both EOC/training of emergency response personnel."
Currently, the law allows only for costs associated with construction or rehabilitation of a training facility. But county officials have been looking as the Hazardous Waste Fund, which has a balance of more than $3 million, to build a much-needed dispatch center.
Hyten has told county officials that if just the new revenue coming into the fund is used, not touching the existing balance, the new center could be built with little impact on taxes. So far this year, the county has received $1.15 million from the landfill tipping fees. A preliminary design estimate for the EOC is around $2 million to build and outfit it.
The county's current 911 facility is located in the courthouse with equipment placed in dirt-floor rooms, cramped closets and dusty attic spaces where it is at risk for water and heat damage. And, the current 911 radio system is inadequate due to the overloaded tower on the courthouse, which does not allow clear communications between dispatchers and emergency responders.
Hyten and Costin, along with a 911 study committee, have proposed construction of the EOC/dispatch center at the county highway department, but the county's financially-strapped status has left the project in need of a funding source.
As council members Mitch Proctor, Darrel Thomas, Richard Lyon, Larry Parker, Don Walton and Jay Fogle read the proposed wording change, they questioned whether maintenance costs should be allowed, and if the change would invite towns to create their own dispatch centers.
"The intention is to build a county central dispatch center, not for multiple centers for towns," Hyten said, pointing out that Hendricks County had a negative experience with multiple dispatch sites.
Council President Proctor raised the concern that the initial wording for the change also called for maintenance funds for the new center.
Hyten pointed out that 911 funding through land-line phone subscribers are declining. The county's 911 system is now funded by a subscriber fee added to each monthly telephone bill. The rise in cell phone usage has led to a decline in land-line subscribers.
"I know," Proctor said, "but I don't think that the hazardous waste fund is the place to make up for the state's failure to recognize that 911 is not adequately funded."
Council member Darrel Thomas added that he wants to see the total financial picture for 911 operations, including maintenance such as mops and buckets. Thomas said his concern with the proposal was that future law changes might also be needed, and he does not want to ask for additional legislation next year if more modifications are needed.
Hyten said while county officials have also talked about expanding the court system and building a new annex, he does not think it would be appropriate to include those as permitted uses for the hazardous waste funds.
Costin agreed that the EOC/dispatch center is his only focus for the law change.
Hyten did note that he does not agree with how the state splits the funding that comes from the landfill site. The current law sends 75 percent of the landfill tipping fee paid by the waste haulers to a state hazardous clean-up fund. The county receives only 25 percent of the tipping fees paid to dispose of waste at the Heritage Environmental landfill. So while Putnam County has received $1.15 million so far this year, the state has taken in more than $3 million in tipping fees.
But Proctor cautioned that former State Rep. Andy Thomas warned that the legislature would not react favorably to any law change if it took money away from the state.
Proctor said he did support a change, however, that directed 10 percent of the county's 25 percent cut into a fund for the Town of Russellville and Russell Township. The town has lived with the landfill in its backyard for many years, he pointed out. He suggested an accumulating fund that could be used for infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer lines, road upgrades and capital expenditures.
"I think it should have been done years ago, but it wasn't," Proctor said of the local designation for the funds. Proctor is a resident of Russell Township.
But council member Parker said the county commissioners on Monday stated they are against "the Russellville idea. They did not want the town to get any money."
Proctor agreed it might seem like a temptation, and that other communities and agencies might want a share of the money. But they don't want a "share" of the landfill.
Hyten said if the council wanted to add wording to direct a portion of the county's money to Russell Township, that could be done. But his concern was that the whole change would be ignored if an agreement could not be reached on directing some of the funds directly to the town or township.
"My concern is to get the dispatch equipment out of where it is located," Hyten said. "If that means making two changes, then we'll go forward with it. If that's the direction you want us to go, then we'll do it. But right now, we need to find a good dry home for this equipment."
Costin agreed that if the county could move forward on the law change, the other funding concerns could be included in the process.
The motion came and was seconded, however, just to get the law changed to allow the funds to be used for an EOC/dispatch center.
In a vote, council members Thomas, Lyon, Walton and Fogle voted in favor of the support letter to Lawson. Proctor and Parker voted against it.
Meanwhile, the council dealt with several additional appropriation requests. In other business, the council approved:
* A request from the sheriff's department for $85,000 in Department of Correction funds to be used to pay bills, and for $50,000 in DOC funds to continue to pay part-time employees. Also, $2,375.20 was approved from the cumulative jail fund for replacement of glass in inmate cells, and another $40,000 in D.O.C. funds to be moved to pay bills.
* A request from the aviation commission for $15,000 to pay for insurance and $8,079 for repairs, maintenance and support. Also, $441,230.85 was approved from the federal grant account for airport bills.
* A request for $476 from the county council conferences account to reimburse expenses for attending a state conference.
* Several requests from the adult probation department to transfer funds for equipment repairs and grant part-time raises. The funds will come from probation users fees. Teresa Parrish requested $936.89 for computer battery back-ups, $600 for client drug screens, $1,000 for a part-time staff salary, $700 for office supplies, $1,500 for computer and telephone repairs.
* A request for $300,000 for the Department of Child Services, as well as encumbering funding into 2007 to pay for some late 2006 bills. The department is current in foster care payments, but usually runs a month behind in institutional payments for placement of children. Director Barbara South said her office took out a $600,000 loan this year to operate this year, and it looks as though enough funding will be available next year to avoid taking out another cash flow loan.
* An additional $48,252.16 for the juvenile probation department to pay detention costs. The account was budgeted at $45,000, but had a balance of $169. while looking at bills totaling $18,252 for June, July and August. An estimated $30,000 will be needed for the remainder of the year for the total of $48,252. The council agreed to pay the bills if the funds are available in the county's general fund, which had an estimated balance of $164,000.
The next regular meeting of the council is set for 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 15 in the courthouse annex.
That session is open to the public.