Long-Term Funding for 911 Center on November Ballot

Proposed special district would create new tax across Flathead County to pay for emergency communications center

By Molly Priddy
Flathead 911 Emergency Communications Center. Beacon file photo

Flathead County voters will decide in November whether to create a new, special-funding district that would provide long-term funding for the Flathead Emergency Communications Center, also known as the 911 center.

On Aug. 18, the Flathead County Commission unanimously approved a ballot measure that would create a special communications district that would include new taxes for residential and commercial county residents.

The 911 administrative board estimated that the new district and tax will bring in about $1.9 million annually to pay for the 911 center, which hasn’t developed a long-term funding plan in its five years of existence.

The annual tax would be $25 for residential units, and $50 for commercial units, with a maximum of 30 commercial units possible; larger businesses and organizations will be charged more than smaller places, the board said.

Boundaries for the special district will be the boundaries of Flathead County.

Long-term funding has been a consistent question for the center, which was created with a $6.9 million bond approved by county voters five years ago. Since then, funding has been a hodge-podge of contributions from the three local municipalities and Flathead County.

The county contributes 6 mills, or about $1.5 million, toward the center, and each city contributes based on population.

Current funding for the 911 center places its budget for fiscal year 2014 at $2.8 million, but none of that money includes capital improvements or communications costs.

Funding for fiscal year 2015 is estimated at just under $3 million, and the center’s future funding committee believes it would cost about $3.9 million annually to set aside sufficient funding for capital improvements.

The center has about $40,000 set aside for such improvements this year.

Per the proposed funding mechanism, Flathead County would continue to levy the existing 6 mills at $1.5 million, and the Flathead special communications district would pull in an additional $1.9 million. Another $500,000 to $600,000 would still come in from the existing tax on phone bills.

The cities have protested the current funding mechanism, saying that it taxes city resident doubly; this special district makes it equal across the board, according to 911 administrative board member and Columbia Falls city manager Susan Nicosia.

Instead of all the cities putting in individual payments, this special purpose district would charge per residence and commercial tax bills.

The administrative board at the 911 center has considered a solution like the special district before, but board members said in June that the upcoming November election is the first time in five years that the economy has been stable enough to approach taxpayers about it.

The election is Nov. 4.

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