IOWA CITY– Maintenance contracts have pushed the FY 2014 Johnson County Joint Emergency Communications Center (JECC) budget request up about $356,000, an increase of 11.3 percent over last year.
JECC director Tom Jones said he had a “pretty level budget, but for one item,” the estimated contract for upkeep on the facility’s Harris radio system. When the center first opened, three-year maintenance contracts for the E911 center were pre-negotiated to September, but the cost will now be budgeted annually.
JECC combines dispatchers and radio systems for public safety and emergency medical personnel throughout all of Johnson County. It is overseen by a seven-member policy board with representatives from Johnson County and the cities of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty.
Jones said he and the JECC board were aware of the major bump upward in the 2014 budget, which went from a total of 3,161,961 for the fiscal year 2012-13 to 3,518,779.
The change in the maintenance contract actually increased the JECC’s annual budget by about $400,000, but shifting and decreasing other operational expenses helped reduce the impact on the tax levy, said policy board member and North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm.
The JECC is largely funded by a tax levied on all Johnson County taxpayers. JECC’s 2014 budget proposes a levy of 74¢ per $1,000 of assessed value to Johnson County taxpayers. Last year’s JECC budget required a levy of 79¢ per $1,000 of value.
Johnson County was roughly in the first third of regions nationwide that have cut back on multiple dispatch to make E911 calls centralized.
As an example of the power of the JECC dispatch service, Jones cited a 2010 case of a student who was being held against her will. As her captor drove from city to city, JECC seamlessly shifted calls to local police.
Jones said it was hard to put a price tag on the minutes saved in finding the young woman. Traditional dispatch might have been able to transfer calls between cities but with JECC, all calls are handled under one roof.
Jones joined the JECC team to help install the facility’s information technology systems. After the first two JECC directors resigned, Jones left his job as IT manager to fill the director’s seat. He was officially installed in June 2012 as JECC director.
Jones admitted his background in technology and radio systems was a boon to JECC, but that his personnel experience would be learned on the job.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan said that, though he’s been critical of the way JECC was put together and has publicly decried JECC’s budget requests in its first two years of operations, he thinks it is now headed in a good direction and he likes Jones as director.
Sullivan said the JECC budget has raised taxes, but the maintenance contracts were necessary for JECC’s operation.
The JECC levy has been figured into Johnson County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, and the county has scheduled a public hearing on that budget for Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m.
As for the future of JECC, Jones said since Linn County had the same radio system, in a few years they might consider connecting a corridor public safety radio system between the two counties.