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Johnson County Supervisors debate JECC budget

BY MATT STARNS | DECEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Johnson County supervisors aren't keen on increasing the budget for the county's emergency communication center.

During an informal meeting Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors said it doesn't want to be held accountable for tax hikes that may result from the Joint Emergency Communication Center's request for a budget increase.

And the supervisors said they may go as far as changing legislation — which would allow them to deny the Communication Center's request — to prevent the increase.

"When we created the Communication Center entity, there was an assumption that those who would serve on that board would be very mindful of potential tax increases," said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. "Unfortunately, we have not seen that sense of fiscal responsibility on their check book."

Because the Communication Center is associated with emergency response, supervisors are unsure of whether they have the authority to decline the budget increase requests.

Currently, the Communication Center is running on a budget of roughly $3 million. Though the Communication Center officials initially requested more, they lowered their request to a 5.6 percent increase during a meeting earlier this week.

But that increase would still lead to anywhere between a 15 and 20 percent increase in taxes for Johnson County residents, and during a meeting Wednesday morning, supervisors said they're concerned with the "disrespect" and lack of communication they feel they are getting from officials with the Communication Center.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the center's budget has been deceptively low in recent years because the center has been using reserve funds to supplement its annual allotment.

And though concerns are building over the quickly rising budget for the Communication Center — which opened in June 2010 in order and merged area emergency communications into one agency — Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he thinks the budget shouldn't be slashed too quickly.

"I know there has been issues, but I strongly disagree with trying to change it at this time. I've been involved for over seven years now, this was something that no elected official spoke out against," Pulkrabek said. "There [are] some misconceptions."

But Supervisor Terry Neuzil said the supervisors has taken measures to reduce the scope of county services since 2008 in order to accommodate for increases in the Communication Center budget.

"No other community is doing that," Neuzil said. "We think that there has been a lack of respect amongst the county — particularly the Board of Supervisors, when we have to answer to the taxpayers about why their taxes are going up — and it seems that the Communication Center board hasn't been doing the same."

But Pulkrabek defended Communication Center's spending.

"The Communication Center budget is more than $1 million below what they're spending over in Scott County, and we own our system," he said. "I know there's been issues, but I strongly disagree with trying to change it at this point in time."

Supervisor Rod Sullivan maintained the Communication Center budget increased by 26 percent last year, which was reflected in tax increases for the residents of Johnson County. He said because of the center's funding structure, the blame for such increases falls on the Board of Supervisors.

"I think primarily it allows city council members to shift costs from the cities to the county with basically no concern for budgetary matters."

One of the major concerns expressed by the Board of Supervisors was the reluctance of elected officials in the county to vote during — or even attend — meetings that involve the Communication Center.

"It would seem only prudent that if there is an entity that is spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money, that the decision to do so ought to come from elected officials," Neuzil said. "The majority of the Board of Directors has issue with a non-elected official participating in passing a budget that is in the area of millions of dollars of taxes spent."

Sullivan also said, however, that he supports the Communication Center.

"All the functional things [about the center] are positive," Sullivan said. "The negative has been the form of government in the way people have decided to make decisions."

DI reporter Audrey Roen contributed to this story.


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