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Council members discuss comm. center impasse
October 03, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Several members of the Gering City Council met in an informal session Monday to discuss possible options for supporting the county’s emergency communications center.

Last June, Scotts Bluff County notified the municipalities it was pulling out of the interlocal agreement governing the communications center that has been in effect since 1990. The county said the center’s equipment has become antiquated over the years and will need to be replaced, a project that will cost $496,631.

The sticking point is over the county’s funding formula, which is based on population. They said there are about 800 residents in the county, but those are people in unincorporated, rural areas. The rest of the county’s total population of about 36,000 resides in municipalities. The cities’ complaint is that under the county formula, they’re being taxed twice, at both the county and local levels.

And according to the county’s letter, municipalities have until Dec. 17 to either agree to their proposal or stop receiving 911 services from the county.

Gering has finalized an alternative proposal that funds the communications center based on the county’s total population, with each municipality’s participation calculated from the federal census. But so far, the county has shown no interest in alternatives.

Gering City Council President Don Christensen plans to attend the next county board meeting on Oct. 7 to explain the city’s position and seek a compromise.

“Speaking for myself, I’d be happy if we could just have a conversation with the county about coming up with something that’s more equitable,” said Gering council member Jill McFarland. “But they don’t seem to be interested.”

At their last meeting, members of the Scottsbluff City Council approved the county’s plan for funding the center. But Scottsbluff uses keno funds and sales tax to support their contribution.

“The question was raised at Scottsbluff whether they’d be interested in coming up with a more equitable means of funding and saving their keno and sales tax monies for other projects,” Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said. “I was told they have almost limitless keno and sales tax funds to use, so they weren’t interested.”

Also joining the discussion was Mitchell Mayor Brian Taylor, representing one of the 10 municipalities that will be affected by the county’s proposal for continuing to provide emergency 911 services.

“We invited the county board chairman to one of our meetings to explain just what their position was,” Taylor told the group. “He talked and we asked questions and he talked and it was a waste of 45 minutes. We didn’t get any answers or information other than arrogance. The whole council thought it was a railroad.”

Mayo said they have a lot of strong talking points to present to the county, especially if the county’s smaller municipalities are also in support. “We want to make this a better agreement not only for the county, but also for everyone involved.”

Mayo added there are a number of options being investigated in the case a compromise cannot be reached.
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