BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – After several weeks of deliberation, the Lee County Emergency Management Agency has changed the way it gathers local funding.
At a meeting Monday afternoon, the board voted 5-2 along city/county lines to approve shifting its local funding stream from a per capita contribution from cities and townships in the county, to a countywide levy.
The levy will be assessed as part of the county’s annual property tax assessment and will amount to less than one cent per $1,000 taxable income on the total county assessment or about .37 cents for a county home with a $50k taxable assessment.
Currently, homeowners in the county are assessed property tax on about 55% of the assessed value of their homes. Agricultural and industrial property have different assessment rates.
The five yes votes came from city mayors including West Point, Fort Madison, Montrose, Donnellson, and Franklin. The two nos came from Lee County Supervisor Rick Larkin and Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber.
The added levy will generate just over $30,000 per year to help offset costs of the agency’s $70,000 annual budget. The agency will have a slightly higher budget this year due to the approval of an assistant to Cirinna, who will be retiring at the end of next fiscal year. That position is a temporary three-month position that will ascend to Cirinna’s position upon his retirement.
Currently, the agency is funded with grants and an 80-cent per capita charge to cities in the county and the county itself. Fort Madison, Keokuk, and Lee County paid the majority of the per capita charges with each at about $8,700 per year. With the temporary position included, that amount would have increased to about $9,250 each.
The added portion to the county levy is projected to create about $37,000 in revenue to replace the per capita charges.
Larkin’s opposition was rooted in the fact that now a committee outside of the board of supervisors had a say in what the county’s levy would look like.
“This has worked for us for a number of years and I don’t know anybody that had a real complaint in the way it was done,” he said.
“But my real problem is that if you go with a levy, there will be folks on the committee who have no financial obligation to the levy. But it is on the county, so you have people making decisions, that in effect, in my opinion, don’t have any skin in the game.”
Cirrina said the 28E agreement the county has with the PSAP board is the exact same way as the 28E with the agency and that’s millions of dollars.
“We’re not talking about $30,000, we’re talking millions of dollars of which PSAP board has all of that control. They have not mismanaged their funds because the budget passes through the county. This is a pass through just like that. I realize it’s reflected in your budget, but it comes through and goes right back out,” he said.
He added that it was his hope that, at some point, the agency become its own taxing agency, a move that Larkin said he would support.
“It would be much cleaner if it just went through one agency,” Larkin said.
Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph said Larkin’s point burdens the cities to try and help keep the county levy lower.
“In an effort to keep the countywide levy lower, you put an extra burden on the community to pay more, and that’s asking a bit much. The fairest way is to put it as a countywide levy. Having it be its own taxing agency is for debate,” Randolph said.
Ron Dinwiddie, Mayor of Montrose, said he favored the county levy because for the cities it’s not a tax, it just comes from the general fund.
“I agree. In the city of Montrose, that’s not a separate line item, it just comes from the general fund and takes away from sidewalks and streets,” Dinwiddie said.
The board now has to approve the final budget for county emergency services which includes the Public Safety Answering Point, or the LeeComm budget. That preliminary budget is estimated at $1.26 million dollars for the next fiscal year bringing the total emergency management services budget to about $1.334 million for 2019-20.