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County extends comm. center deadline
October 10, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Scotts Bluff County Commissioners approved an amended interlocal agreement with the City of Scottsbluff that establishes a formula to fund needed equipment upgrades to the county emergency communications center.

With the approval on Monday, the county also extended the agreement’s initial Oct. 1 deadline to Nov. 15 for the county’s municipalities to sign on or stop receiving 911 services from the county.

Don Christensen, president of the Gering City Council, told commissioners the city needed more time to study the agreement as approved by Scottsbluff. But he also said he wasn’t going to ask the board to change the funding formula.

“I’m not here to tell the board the best way to pay for this equipment,” Christensen said. “We’ve had plenty of time to discuss different methods. But I think it’s time for us to get on with this thing so we can continue to provide emergency communications services to the people of the county.”

Bruce Mitchell, member of the Morrill town council, also attended the meeting. He told commissioners he only received the revised agreement this week and needed time to review it, as the Morrill council meets monthly.

In approving the deadline extension, County Board Chairman Mark Masterton said it wasn’t the board’s intention to hold anyone’s feet to the fire. He said communities have had the opportunity for input since the initial agreement was sent to the municipalities in June, but the county board has received none.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at changes, but I want this thing to move,” said Commissioner Ken Meyer. “We’ve messed with this thing for six years. It’s time to get it done and put it to bed for the betterment of the smaller communities.”

But the ratified agreement between the county and Scottsbluff isn’t the only alternative that’s been presented. Several members of the Gering City Council have proposed a different funding formula to support emergency communications. That formula is based on the county’s total population, with residents assessed equally for the service.

Gering City Council member Jill McFarland, who developed the alternative, said the county’s proposal taxes residents of municipalities twice, at both the local and county level.

Adding confusion to the current revised agreement is the voting formula for the comm. center’s advisory board. It gives an overwhelming number of votes to the City of Scottsbluff and only one to the smaller, outlying communities.

However, the county board appears satisfied with the ratified agreement. Commissioner Meyer said they could address the advisory board’s voting formula if it’s a concern, but “I tell you what’s not going to happen. I’m not going to sit here and resubmit the whole budget issue all over again.”

After the meeting, Christensen was asked about Gering’s proposed alternative funding formula. “I see no reason to go there,” he said.

“I think the City of Gering is getting a bargain for what’s been proposed. I don’t see any reason to change that formula now.”

Gering Mayor Ed Mayo, who was also at the county board meeting, said the city still has problems with the agreement as it was written. He said the county and all its municipalities should meet and work out an agreement that’s acceptable to everyone, not just the county and Scottsbluff.

“Don’s position is not the official position of the council,” Mayo later said. “Several council members still believe there are issues with funding the comm. center. We’ll be presenting those issues to the county board soon.”

Contacted after the meeting, Gering City Council member Jill McFarland said it was inaccurate to say council approved the current funding agreement. “A member of the council went totally outside his scope of authority in saying we do.”

McFarland has requested an agenda item to further discuss funding for emergency communications at the council’s next regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.

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