By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY— Gary Albrecht was in the hot seat. As the Executive Director for the Joint Emergency Communications Center (JECC), it was his task to bring forth a budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Albrecht made his presentation Monday afternoon, Dec. 19, during a supervisors’ budget work session, and found himself having to account for some of the accounting.
The budget, which the JECC Policy Board approved on Friday, Dec. 16, is for $3,161,961; an increase over the FY 12 budget of $2,995,936. Salaries and wages made up the largest share of the budgetary pie, needing $1,701,850 plus an additional $850,527 for the comprehensive benefits package for the four salaried and 25 full time employees. One Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employee is also on the payroll for a total of 30 JECC staff members. Albrecht confirmed the JECC employees agreed to a two-year contract with a 1.5 percent raise, which goes into effect on July 1.
“We have a number of newer employees, still relatively new, so they are still getting step increases which were approved before I showed up,” Albrecht said. “The step increases run anywhere from 2.75 percent to 3.75 percent on top of the 1.5 percent we agreed to for the cost of living.”
Contractual Maintenance and Repair came in with $103,778 budgeted for the JECC facility, computer hardware and software and janitorial services.
“Included are a number of line-items we were able to use E-911 dollars, and some of them are annual, some of them are new to this year.” E-911 funds, generated by a surtax on everyone’s monthly telephone bill, paid for maintenance to the Tac-10 CAD (computer-aided dispatching) system, the GeoComm mapping system, JECC Viper 911 system, Exacomm Recorder (records all telephone and radio calls into or out of the JECC) maintenance, Qwest 911 Trunks and ALI Circuits, as well as portable (walkie-talkie) and mobile (radios installed in emergency vehicles) maintenance and preventative maintenance. In total, E-911 paid $362,302 in contract maintenance and repair services. Albrecht noted this was money the JECC did not have to pay out of its budget, and also told the board that E-911 had “an additional $275,000 for us to use for FY 2013, and a portion was rolled-over into FY 2014 and 2015 if need be.”
These funds turned into a point of contention over the budget.
“Three point one million,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said. “Are there revenues? This is your budgeted expenditures, but were there revenues to offset anything?” Rettig suggested the JECC could have potentially generated income through selling radios, renting space on its towers, finding grant money, or by other means.
“There was a slight amount of dollars that came from non-public safety agencies being on our system and I believe that was $2,500. It’s a minimal amount” Albrecht answered. He reiterated that E-911 dollars are used to pay for certain JECC expenditures.
“But see, as Janelle is pointing out, that’s money we won’t have to tax for,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said.
“We just need to find a line in (the budget) that shows either we’re taxing for the $3.1 or we’re taxing for $2.8 (the difference minus E-911 dollars),” added Supervisor Terrence Neuzil.
JECC Technology Manager Tom Jones joined Albrecht at a small table before the Board and tried to explain the funding methodology.
“It’s hard to show it because of the way the E-911 funds are set up,” said Jones. “They (E-911) can’t actually show that (money) as JECC receiving revenue when they pay the invoices. What we’ve done is show this in the budget as a reduction– that is, as if it was not available to us.” Jones added if not for the E-911 dollars, “you would have to put that into our budget.”
Rettig wasn’t satisfied with Jones’ explanation.
“So this isn’t your budget?” REttig pressed. ”Your budget isn’t $3,161,961; it’s some number higher that you haven’t told us yet. Is that true?”
“It would be if you did not have the expenses E-911 agreed to pay,” Jones replied. Rettig continued to try to determine the actual budget number and called it dishonest to include the E-911 figures.
“I don’t believe that’s honest to the public. I believe the budget should show the budget, and then it should show revenues coming in to offset the amount being taxed,” Rettig said. “This budget, then, is artificially low, because things are being paid for outside of this budget.”
Jones maintained that the means of accounting for E-911 funds was accurate.
“It’s just the only way we’re told how to present it because we can’t plug those numbers in. We don’t collect, we don’t tax for that.”
Rettig persisted, pointing out that E-911 sent a letter committing $275,000 to JECC. “I mean, it’s already been committed. To me public hearings are to notify the public of what’s actually happening and to not notify the public of that actual department budget seems dishonest.
“The public doesn’t care about the paperwork, the public cares about the true cost of offering the service,” Rettig continued. “So, what you’ve just told me is the true cost of offering the service is not the number you have in your budget. It’s some number higher.”
Supervisor Pat Harney, the 2011 county representative on the JECC policy board, said “we need to find a way to show that the budget is $3.4 million, and $200,000 is paid through E-911 funds for balancing and legibility purposes.”
Sullivan suggested there are resources within the County government who could enlighten all concerned on proper accounting techniques if need be.
“We can look into, as you’re suggesting, the proper way to do that. It’s just been how we’ve been told to do it,” Jones replied.
Rettig remained unconvinced and showed displeasure with the E-911 dollars being shown but not including it in the totals.
“If what you’re asking is to tax $3.1 million, which is a half-million dollar increase over what was asked for to tax a year ago. Despite all the talk about cutting the budget and lowering it, it’s still a half-million increase.”
Albrecht explained the FY 2012 budget was $2.9 million, but that $333,000 of that came out of the department’s cash reserves. He also said the reserves were spent down to get to the figure.
After listening to the back-and-forth discussions, Supervisor Sally Stutsman offered her own opinion.
“I am just incredulous that you are asking for this amount of money and can’t even show revenue to fund this? I mean, that’s just unbelievable. I don’t know if you need a tutorial by our auditing department, or whatever. But I just really am stunned that this is as unclear as it is,” said Stutsman.
Stutsman said JECC provides a service to a lot of people, yet the policy board isn’t directing them to start charging for some of those services. “You’re asking the taxpayers to subsidize a lot. We directed all of our departments to come up with additional revenues, whether it be fees or whatever. ...This (JECC policy) board needs to do a better job of finding additional revenues to offset some of these costs from the taxpayer.”
Albrecht defended his department’s policies, noting entities such as Mercy Hospital Safety and Security pays for using the JECC system, as well as the North Liberty Department of Public Works.
For member agency users such as North Liberty’s Public Works, there is a one-time user fee of $200, plus $75 per radio on an annual basis. Non-member agencies such as the Iowa Department of Transportation pay $150 per radio annually.
Sullivan asked if there were services, such as attorney coverage, payroll or human resources, that could be performed in-house rather than being contracted out.
“It’s hard for me to believe, looking at these numbers, that some things couldn’t be done cheaper,” Sullivan said.