Long-Term Funding for 911 Center on Ballot

Cities passing resolutions to 'neutralize' the new tax on residences and businesses

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

Flathead County believes it has the solution for long-term funding for the Flathead Emergency Communications Center – also known as the 911 Center – and it is asking voters to approve or deny this solution.

Determining a long-term funding plan was one of the original goals when the 911 Center was created in 2009, but such a plan has not manifested. Instead, the center is funded through a county levy and contributions from Kalispell, Whitefish, and Columbia Falls.

The 911 Center fielded more than 113,000 calls in 2013, including both emergency and administrative calls. City and county officials have said the center is working efficiently and effectively now, though the cities have complained that the current funding system taxes city residents doubly.

In August, the county commission OK’d the language for the funding initiative, which proposes creating a special-fee district for a new annual tax: $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 special-fee district would encompass Flathead County.

According to county administrator Mike Pence, the 911 Center’s annual budget is about $3.9 million. This new special-fee district would bring in about $1.8 million, and the county would also continue to levy six mills to pay an additional $1.5 million. The remaining funds would come from an existing tax on phone bills.

The 911 Center’s administrative board said the proposed plan is a “fair and equitable” way to pay for the center’s annual costs.

In order to keep from taxing residents twice, the Whitefish City Council passed a resolution saying that if the ballot initiative passes, the city will not spend the $158,000 it normally contributes to the 911 Center, and would reduce 7.07 mills.

The Kalispell City Council will look at a similar resolution, for the amount of $250,000, on Oct. 6. Should the initiative pass, the city’s resolution will lessen its mills by 7.64, effectively neutralizing the new tax.

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.

Mail-in ballots will be sent out to voters on Oct. 6, and the general election is Nov. 4.