|Council postpones decision on comm. center|
|October 31, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
Even after a half-hour closed session during its Monday meeting, members of the Gering City Council still aren’t ready to climb aboard a proposal to fund the Scotts Bluff County emergency communications center.
But time is ticking, as the county’s new deadline for getting all the county’s municipalities signed onto the proposal is Nov. 15. The City of Scottsbluff has already agreed.
Gering’s main objection to the proposal is the funding mechanism, based on population. They claim the municipalities are being taxed twice, at both the local and county levels, to pay for technology upgrades to the comm. center.
Another point of contention is the voting formula on the center’s advisory board. Based on population, the board would be dominated by the largest population centers, leaving the county’s smaller communities without much of a voice.
For several months, the city has tried to explain their concerns to the Scotts Bluff County Board, but commissioners said they need $496,000 as repayment on the technology upgrades. So far, the county board has been unwilling to consider different options to how those funds are collected.
Gering Mayor Ed Mayo has been a strong opponent of the county’s proposal claiming smaller communities were being pressured to sign on or risk losing 911 services. But late last week in a media interview, he said the county’s proposal looked like the best available option.
Then on Monday, Mayo said the story was “not completely accurate” and that the council still has problems with the proposal.
During Monday night’s meeting, council member Jill McFarland said it’s been a year and the county still hasn’t provided them with an itemized list of the upgrades and what was paid for each. She said that last summer, the county approved almost a quarter-million dollars to purchase radios, phones and possible software. But there’s been no accounting for the remainder of the $496,000 total the county wants to be reimbursed.
Council member Don Christensen has been a strong supporter of the county’s proposal, saying it’s “cheap insurance” to continue having 911 services in case of an emergency. According to Christensen’s numbers, the city has already paid the county $40,000 of a requested $114,000 from last year. The council has already budgeted $59,000 for this year, which would leave $15,000 to be paid in the third year.
Media outlets objected to the closed session, claiming the discussion would be over public policy. The City of Scottsbluff had the same discussion without a closed session.
However, Gering City Attorney Jim Ellison said there were several points in the proposal that needed to be negotiated and that a closed session was “in the city’s best interest.”
After the meeting, McFarland said she still wants to see an itemized list of upgrades to the comm. center. And Mayo said the city needs to discuss the proposal with leaders from the smaller cities, some of whom also object to its funding formula.