Iowa county renews two-year emergency communication service agreement

Burlington, Danville and Middletown approved the renewed, two-year DesCom 28e agreement in May


Laigha Anderson
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

BURLINGTON, Iowa — After months of debate, the next two years of emergency communication service in Des Moines County is finally secure.

Burlington, Danville and Middletown approved the renewed, two-year DesCom 28e agreement in May. This week, West Burlington and Mediapolis agreed to the new pact.

The debate surrounding DesCom centered on how the agency is funded. (Photo/ Des Moines County Communications - Descom)
The debate surrounding DesCom centered on how the agency is funded. (Photo/ Des Moines County Communications - Descom)

"I'll send it off to the state to have it filed," DesCom Director Shanna Krogmeier said Thursday.

In hindsight, DesCom's continued existence may not truly have been in doubt, but its continued existence was uncertain until all the parties in the agreement signed off on the new plan.

The debate surrounding DesCom centered on how the agency is funded.

Under both the original agreement and the new, DesCom is funded on a per capita basis, with cities and the county paying based on their shares of the county's population.

At issue, however, was whether there was a better way. For the county's two biggest cities, Burlington and West Burlington, the better way was to fund DesCom through a countywide levy. County officials balked at that proposal.

In March, a review of the 911 dispatch service's funding showed city taxpayers had been paying twice for DesCom: through their county taxes as well as their city taxes. This double taxation added up to $1.2 million dating back to before the formation of DesCom.

The result of that discovery was Des Moines County shifting the majority of its portion of DesCom funding from the countywide General Services Levy to the rural-only Rural Services Levy.

For the first year of the new agreement, a small portion of the bill, $23,000, will remain on the General Basic Levy. That money goes to pay for a portion of Danville, Mediapolis and Middletown's cost to participate in DesCom. The expense could not be reallocated for FY2020, because Iowa law forbids charging rural residents for services provided to urban residents — and because the change came after budgets and tax rates were set for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Starting in fiscal 2021, Danville, Mediapolis and Middletown will have to pay their entire DesCom bill. At that point, the county will only fund DesCom out of the rural levy.

After months of wrangling, the work to keep DesCom going isn't done. The agreement expires in two years instead of the originally proposed five years, and there are fewer than 18 months until work begins on the FY22 budget.

Burlington City Councilman Jon Billups, who represents the city on the DesCom Control Board, said the board has a lot of work to get done between now and then.

"It's not going to be an easy solution, but there is something that can be done," he said.

Billups said he believes the DesCom Control Board needs to take time to study how other counties pay for countywide emergency communication service it. While he thinks a countywide levy is the best method, he said he's open to more ideas than one.

West Burlington Mayor Hans Trousil has said he would like to change the funding formula for DesCom before FY21, but Billups said there is no reason to rush into a new agreement.

"It might take us two years before we can come to a solution that makes all the entities happy," Billups said.

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©2019 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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