City council approves 911 tax

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Following in Fishers’ footsteps, the Westfield City Council voted in favor of a resolution approving a 0.1 percent local income tax increase to help fund 911 dispatching in Hamilton County at its Sept. 23 meeting.

The town council of Arcadia, with a population 1,600 people north of Cicero, recently voted in favor of the tax, triggering a process that required it to be voted on by the remaining seven Hamilton County city and town councils. To go into effect, councils representing more than half of the county’s population had to approve the tax increase.

Westfield represents 12.34 percent of the 50 percent threshold necessary to approve the county-wide increase. On Sept. 24, just one day after the Westfield council voted, the city council in Noblesville, which represents 17.4 percent, also approved the resolution, sealing the deal for the county-wide increase.

On Sept. 16, Fishers, representing 28.95 percent, voted in favor of the tax, and the Town of Atlanta, representing 0.24 percent, voted in favor at its Sept. 24 meeting.

As of press time, Carmel, which represents 29.11 percent, had not voted on the resolution, and Cicero, which represents 1.61 percent, was set to take a vote at its Sept. 26 meeting. Sheridan, representing 0.89 percent, will vote Oct. 2.

Technically, additional votes aren’t needed because Noblesville’s approval surpassed the 50 percent threshold, raising the overall approval to approximately 59 percent.

Historically, the county’s cities – the “big four” – have helped subsidize 911 service for the small towns and townships, which include Atlanta, Arcadia, Cicero, Jackson Township, Sheridan, Wayne Township and White River Township.

Now, Hamilton County’s small towns and townships are responsible to jointly contribute $500,000 annually, an amount determined based on the number of calls to an area. The county agreed to phase in the amount they owe, with $50,000 due in 2019 and the amount increasing by 10 percent each year until they are paying the full amount. In the meantime, the county will fund the difference.

“This is the proposed solution mechanism that is the most equitable manner by which to fund emergency 911 dispatch services,” said Todd Burtron, Westfield’s chief of staff. “This formula spreads the cost across the entire county, not just certain communities.”

Instead of municipalities paying their portion, Hamilton County will collect and distribute funding. Although Westfield, nor any other city or town, will receive revenue, the four cities will save money.

In 2019, Westfield paid $859,195.62 for 911 dispatch services. In the future, that money can now be used elsewhere in the city budget.

“I don’t think anybody likes new taxes. I don’t like paying new taxes, (but) the advantage of this, to me, is that it distributes the cost of these services, which I don’t believe anyone wants to do without,” councilor Steve Hoover said. “We’ve been bearing this cost at a (disproportionate) rate for the services we get. This evens that out.”

Hamilton County stands to receive approximately $3 million in revenue, according to Mike Howard, who serves as the attorney for the Hamilton County Commissioners and City of Noblesville.

“There have been some questions about how this will raise revenue when combined with the phone fees that generate a little over $3 million a year I think Hamilton County, we proved about a year ago that we have an A1 operation, and we sure want to keep it that way,” said Howard, referencing the May 25, 2018, shooting at Noblesville West Middle School. “There are some substantial costs coming up. The (communications) center that is in the lower level of the jail, they’re outgrowing that rapidly. The demand for services from our population increases every day. In addition, there are new software systems that can be out there that aren’t (currently) in the budget.”

The one-tenth of 1 percent increase means that a person annually earning $50,000 will pay $50 more per year.

The tax increase will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Editor’s note: Ann Marie Shambaugh contributed to this report.

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