The St. Joseph County Council approved a new funding plan Tuesday night for the county's 911 dispatch center. The center will now be funded by county income tax revenue, which means big cuts for other public entities.
County officials stressed that the new plan isn’t a tax increase – it simply shifts a portion of existing tax revenue to a dedicated fund for the 911 center.
Right now, the center is jointly funded by South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County. Advocates say using income tax revenue is a fairer way to fund the center, which handles all emergency calls for the county.
“If you live in a rural part of the county, you pay from the St. Joe County portion of your taxes,” Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood said at a city council meeting last month. “If you live in Mishawaka, you pay taxes in Mishawaka and you pay taxes in St. Joe County, both of which go to support the 911 communications center.”
But the revenue shift means other public bodies – including libraries, townships, towns, the airport and Transpo – will lose a significant portion of their tax funding.
Jennifer Henecke, a spokesperson for the St. Joseph County Public Library, said they stand to lose over $600,000 a year.
“The impact is huge,” Henecke said. “Libraries are dependent on tax funding, especially. Any decrease that we see – especially one that is going to be continuous – it makes it harder to provide the necessary services to our community.”
Henecke said the library is committed to not closing any branches, but it will have to evaluate staffing and services in light of the new funding change.
Council members said Tuesday they were committed to offsetting some of the funding losses through future appropriations. The current proposal would have the county contribute 50 percent next year, 37.5 percent in 2023 and 25 percent in 2024.
Henecke said those contributions would help, but ultimately, they’re a temporary solution.
“It will help kind of ease the burden as we adjust to that new change, but it’s still going to result in – for us, at least – over half a million dollars in lost revenue every year,” she said.
According to county projections, some entities – like the airport, Transpo and the Mishawaka Public Library – wouldn’t receive assistance funds. County officials said Tuesday the city of Mishawaka has a separate agreement to provide assistance to its library.
Schools will be exempt from the income tax shift. A similar funding plan came before the council in 2019 but failed to pass.
The council also approved a new interlocal agreement Tuesday night that would add a representative from the county council to the 911 center’s board. It also provides a backup funding system if the center exceeds its tax funding, and a reallocation system if it uses less.
That agreement needs approval from both Mishawaka and South Bend’s common councils to take effect.
The new funding plan for the 911 center will take effect next fall.
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