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County and cities at stalemate over funding formula
October 24, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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The City of Gering Administrative Committee used their regular monthly meeting Monday to ask mayors from the county’s smaller communities about their concerns over a proposed interlocal agreement to fund equipment upgrades to the county emergency communications center.

Although not specifically invited, three Scotts Bluff County Commissioners, along with comm. center director Ray Richards, also showed up for the meeting. And after an hour and a half of discussion, no progress was made toward a funding formula with which everyone could agree.

The crux of the dispute is a funding formula developed by the county that’s based on population. But Gering and other smaller communities believe that municipalities are double taxed under that formula, both at the county and local levels.

Gering City Council member and Admin Committee chair Jill McFarland has developed her own funding formula she said is more equitable to all county residents, whether they live in towns or rural areas. But that formula also shifts $169,000 of the funding back to the county over the next three years.

McFarland said the meeting was to discuss the concerns of the smaller communities, not to rehash the numbers again. “I hope we remember that what we’re doing is not so much to serve an elected board as it is to serve the people of the county, which is all of us.”

The county’s proposed interlocal agreement has already been signed by the City of Scottsbluff. It gives a Nov. 15 deadline for other municipalities to sign on or face losing 911 services. However the county has indicated that deadline could be extended.

Minatare Mayor Alfred Pieper said he’s talked with several of his constituents and indicated they would not support the county’s proposal because of the problem of “double dipping.”

Another concern with the county’s proposal is the makeup of an advisory board that would direct the comm. center’s mission. The proposal recommends voting based on population, with one vote for every 1,000 residents. However, that would put the board’s control in the hands of the county’s two most populous cities, without serious consideration of the smaller towns and villages.

“We all need 911 services and should pay for them,” said Mitchell Mayor Bob Taylor. “But we’re getting information from different sources and maybe not the whole story.”

McFarland said she didn’t see why there was a specific “drop dead” date to get the agreement signed, since the comm. center’s technology upgrades have already been installed. “If it takes longer to come up with something we can all be happy with, I can’t see that’s an issue.”

McFarland admitted the county is cash strapped in providing all its needed services. In fact, the county is at its 50 cent levy limit. “But I think the county is totally ignoring that some of the smaller communities are probably more strapped for cash and revenue flow,” she said.

Council member Larry Gibbs said that contrary to a recent editorial from the county board, Gering and everyone else thinks they should fund the comm. center. The disagreement is over what constitutes a fair share.

But County Commissioners Mike Marker and Sherry Blaha both indicated the county didn’t have the money to support McFarland’s alternative proposal.

Although the meeting made no progress, McFarland offered to meet with any of the city councils to further discuss their concerns about the proposed agreement.
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