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Tax to fund dispatchers gets panel vote Tuesday

Kaitlin Settles, front, and Shannon Pester speak about dispatch matters in 2020 inside the Jefferson County Law Center in Fairfield. (Union archive photo)
Kaitlin Settles, front, and Shannon Pester speak about dispatch matters in 2020 inside the Jefferson County Law Center in Fairfield. (Union archive photo)

FAIRFIELD — Jefferson County residents could see a new levy on their property taxes beginning this summer designed to change how 9-1-1 dispatchers in the county are funded.

The Jefferson County Emergency Management Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday over Zoom to vote on the levy, which is being supported by the city of Fairfield as a way to fund the dispatchers more equitably. Fairfield City Administrator said Fairfield residents are taxed twice when paying for dispatchers.

The dispatchers are city employees, so the city is responsible for paying their salaries and benefits. The city has an agreement with the county to share expenses, such as the county paying for the equipment. But Kooiker said this arrangement is not fair to Fairfield residents, who have to pay for 911 services not only through their city taxes but also on their county taxes. He said that’s why he and the city of Fairfield want 911 personnel costs to be spread evenly among all county residents, instead of having Fairfield residents pay a disproportionate share.

The proposed 911 levy would be about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation and generate about $450,000 annually. Kooiker said that a resident owning a $100,000 home would see their county property taxes increase about $30. This would allow the city of Fairfield to reduce its property taxes, too. Kooiker said he’s not sure exactly how it will affect the city’s tax rate, but he’s hopeful it will be able to fall 30 cents from about $15.60 per $1,000 valuation to $15.30.

The members of the commission who will vote on this matter include the mayors of all the towns in Jefferson County: Fairfield, Batavia, Maharishi Vedic City, Lockridge, Packwood and Pleasant Plain; plus a representative of the county Board of Supervisors and the county sheriff.

Jefferson County Supervisor Dee Sandquist, who represents the supervisors on the commission, said she is leaning against the proposal. She said the county wants the arrangement to stay the way it is.

“I know county residents are not going to want to pay for a levy that is for city employees,” she said.

Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding said Thursday he will advise the commission not to adopt the levy at Tuesday’s meeting, and instead take more time to study the issue and ensure that such a tax is even legal. He said it’s unclear if the commission has the authority levy taxes or if it needs to get the approval of the Board of Supervisors.

“It might be an interesting experiment in taxation, but as an adviser for the county, I don’t want to be the canary for a new legal concept,” Moulding said. “If this is unlawful, it could be deemed an illegal tax, and the county and city would have to pay back these taxes to the taxpayers.”

To watch the Zoom meeting, visit:

https://zoom.us/j/92335315899?pwd=NXZYL3hHTnkyMndsT3BwQmJwRTBNQT09

Meeting ID: 923 3531 5899

Pass code: 206778

Residents also can join by phone by calling: 1-312-626-6799.