Tax increase proposed to fund, improve public safety in Hamilton County

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Carmel pays $3.4 million annually for use of the 911 communications center.

City councils across Hamilton County will soon be voting on whether to approve a .1 percent increase in the local income tax to fund and improve the county’s 911 communications center.

Arcadia’s town council recently voted in favor of the tax, triggering a process that requires it to be voted on by all Hamilton County city and town councils. To go into effect, councils representing more than half of the county’s population must approve the tax increase. That means if approved by Carmel and Fishers, whose populations comprise nearly 60 percent of the county, the tax would be approved.

The proposed tax could more evenly spread the burden of funding the 911 communications center across all county residents. Currently, Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield combine to pay $6.9 million of the $11 million budgeted to run the center, with a statewide user fee charged to phone users covering $3.6 million. The remaining $500,000 is supposed to be paid by Hamilton County’s smaller towns, but they’ve only been able to cover about 10 percent of that amount. The county is paying the difference.

Carmel City Council President Jeff Worrell said he doesn’t know when the council will vote on the ordinance, and he hasn’t determined how he will vote. He said he doesn’t like the idea of a new tax but that this one might make sense.

“Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield – the big four – are carrying the load on this,” Worrell said. “One reason to do this, and I’m not saying it’s the only reason or a valid reason, is that every person in Hamilton County would pay the same for public safety.”

Carmel is paying $1.8 million in 2019 in service fees for the 911 center’s services. The city would get to keep the funds and use them elsewhere if the tax is approved.

The tax increase is expected to generate $16 million for the county. The funds are expected to cover the cost of running the 911 center and expanding it.

“The call center is currently housed in the basement of the (Hamilton County) Sheriff’s Office and is busting at the seams,” stated Jeff Schemmer, the county’s executive director of communications, in a press release. “We need to build a stand-alone building to better accommodate our growing population and burgeoning call load.”

Last year Hamilton County Public Safety Communications handled more than 300,000 emergency calls for seven police departments, HCSO and nine fire and EMS departments.

If approved, the tax would go into effect Jan. 1. In recent years, Boone and Hancock counties joined dozens of others across the state in adopting a similar tax.

This story will be updated.