By Julie Ann Madden
It’s in the hands of Union County voters.
That’s a tax opt out to fund Union County’s Communications Center, which handles 911 and non-911 calls requesting law enforcement, fire and rescue assistance.
At their March 18 meeting, Union County Commissioners unanimously approved a three-year tax opt out with a maximum of $250,000 annually to fund the center — with the stipulation the issue be put on upcoming June 3 Primary Election ballot.
In addition, Commissioner Milton Ustad, who made the motion, stressed his idea was to levy this tax for the Communications Center. Then have the commissioners not ask for the maximum Tax Opt Out amount of $500,000 on the current Roads and Bridges Tax Opt Out, which still has three years left.
Union County Auditor Carol Klumper informed the commissioners they could not tie the two tax opt outs together. They could only decide the tax opt out amount and length and whether or not to call for a vote of the people on the matter.
Ustad wanted the commissioners to only levy for $250,000 of the Roads and Bridges Tax Opt Out because the Communications Center is funded by 911 dollars and approximately $225,000 from the county’s General Fund.
“That General Fund money can be used to replace the (Roads and Bridges) opt out money,” said Ustad. “Technically we wouldn’t be raising any more money.”
“If we decide not to exercise the whole money on the other tax opt out, it should be tax neutral,” agreed Commission Chairperson Doyle Karpen. “If we exercise the tax opt out, we have the ability to levy at a higher rate and then at (budget) time the board has the option to ask for the maximum, minimum — none of it or anything in-between.”
“We need to take it to a vote,” said Ustad summarizing his motion for a tax opt out of $250,000 for three years passed or defeated by the voters on the June 3 Primary Election.
Commissioner Marvin Schempp seconded the motion and the vote was 4-0 with Commissioner Ross Jordan absent. The vote had to be four in favor to get the two-thirds majority needed for a tax opt out to pass.
Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges and Communication Center Director Judy Oberg had presented budget projections for the Communications Center’s next five years.
“We’ve been talking about funding for 911 operations for some time,” Limoges told the Commission. “It’s been kind of a roller coaster as far as funding and keeping it viable.”
“I’m against farming it out,” he said. “We need to keep it local.”
Limoges asked for a four- or five-year tax opt out.
“By that time we’ll have a better handle on what the state’s going to do on their Next Generation system,” said Limoges. “There are a lot of unknowns there but supposedly that system will be less cost because we can all share that type of equipment.”
“Let’s do an opt out — get the proper funding in place so we’re not battling every year whether we’re going to have a viable 911 Center or not,” he said. “I also think we need the appropriate dollars. If you’re going to do an opt out, we need to do it properly so we can fund it appropriately.”
Limoges noted the monetary cost projections included some 911 revenue issues that hadn’t been resolved yet. Currently, North Sioux City officials and county officials are arguing about how much 911 dollars the county owes North Sioux City. The county’s phone line formula is disputed by North Sioux City officials. When the county sent a check for 2014 first quarter’s 911 calls, North Sioux City officials returned the check.
“(The budgetary pro