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City chases county for E911 money

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The City of Marion is demanding funds Grant County Council denied to Marion Police be handed over or the city may sue the county.

In June, Marion Police Chief Angela Haley approached the council to ask for $451,000 from the county’s E911 fund to pay the salaries of seven MPD dispatchers and to cover equipment costs. The council granted only the equipment funds, about $78,000, but withheld the rest of the funding, telling Haley they would give her the money if she came back to the council with a plan to centralize dispatch for emergency agencies across the county.

City officials believe the county council is obligated by statute to give MPD the money.

“I believe the language clearly states ‘we shall receive,’ not ‘we may receive,’” Mayor Jess Alumbaugh told the Marion City Council Tuesday as he explained the situation during the council’s first day of budget hearings.

The county E911 fund exists to support the county’s two public safety answering points (PSAPs), which are MPD’s dispatch center and the Sheriff’s Department dispatch center.

“Under the law they’re required to dispense those funds … they have no statutory authorization to impose conditions,” said Tom Hunt, corporate counsel for the City of Marion.

Last year for the first time the county used more than $400,000 in E911 money to pay the salaries of county dispatchers in an effort to balance the budget without cutting jobs.

“When they were working on their budget for this year (the county council) knew they were going to be in a deficit, and instead of making the hard cuts that the city has had to make, they dipped into the E911 money to support their dispatchers. We asked that they do the same for us,” Haley said.

An Aug. 9 letter to County Council President Jim McWhirt and members of the County Council, signed by Hunt, reads, “The City of Marion demands that you and the Grant County Council provide full distribution to the City of $372,795.78 as you are required to do by Indiana law. If these sums are not paid in 30 days we will take steps to enforce our right to distribution of these funds and your obligation to disburse them.”

Although the city has not received a formal response from the County Council, Alumbaugh said he and McWhirt discussed the situation Tuesday.

Alumbaugh told the city council that McWhirt’s reasoning seemed to be that the city didn’t need the $372,000. “His response was more about … you guys had a balanced budget, you had everything in place,” Alumbaugh told council members.

Currently, the situation hangs in limbo as McWhirt and Alumbaugh plan to meet one-on-one a second time to discuss how to resolve the issue.

When asked if the council is considering granting the funds, McWhirt said he could not comment on that. “We are having conversations about the issue,” McWhirt said of the letter.

Alumbaugh said it was a positive conversation and the county and city are looking for ways to work together on issues like central dispatch and beyond.

“We’ll go through the legal process and it’ll play out, but I think we’re trying to build a bridge too while we do this. I think you can win the war but lose the battle very quickly... there’s so much more we can do working together,” Alumbaugh said.

Hunt would not comment on what the “steps to enforce our right to distribution of these funds” might be, but Alumbaugh’s comments implied legal action.

“We can’t bully them … we have to be the good guys and play within the rules, and that’s what we’re trying to do, just stay in our lane, but pursue it to the end. It’s just like the Old Y, folks,” Alumbaugh told the council.

Alumbaugh emphasized that the city and county were working to resolve the conflict.

“(McWhirt)’s willing to figure this out, it’s ongoing discussion,” Alumbaugh said.