Cities and towns in Hamilton County are expected to vote over the next several weeks on whether to increase the county’s local income tax to help fund 911 operations.
The 0.1-percentage-point tax increase would generate an estimated $16 million of new funding for the county’s 911 center. Hamilton County’s current local income tax is 1 percent. The 10 percent increase would cost a resident earning $100,000 an additional $100 a year.
For years, the county and the four cities—Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield—have largely funded 911 services for the entire county, including its four towns. But last year, the cities renegotiated agreements with the county, leaving the small towns—Atlanta, Cicero, Sheridan and Arcadia—on the hook for expenses they previously never had to budget for. At that time, leaders began discussing a tax increase.
Hamilton County Public Safety Communications, housed in Noblesville at the Sheriff’s Office, dispatches emergency calls for seven police departments, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, and nine fire and EMS departments. Dispatchers take more than 300,000 emergency calls annually.
“The larger cities no longer want to absorb those costs, and while the smaller towns are willing to contribute something, they don’t have deep enough pockets to fund the full amount, so we need to find an alternate funding source,” Commissioner Christine Altman said in written comments.
Currently, the 911 budget is just under $11 million a year, with $3.6 million of that funding coming from a statewide user fee charged to telephone and mobile phone users.
Just under $7 million of this year’s budget is funded by the four cities, leaving the towns to cover $500,000. Town leaders have said they don’t have the revenue to cover the $500,000, so this year they were required to pay only a small portion, with Hamilton County funding the remaining $440,000.
As governments begin planning budgets for 2020, the Arcadia Town Council adopted a resolution at its last meeting supporting the tax increase for public safety. Doing so triggers a meeting of the Local Income Tax Council, in which each city and town council votes separately on the issue and files its decision with the county auditor.
If councilors representing at least 50% of the county’s population vote in favor of the increase, it will be approved, meaning Fishers’ and Carmel’s councils could together approve the tax even without support from others.
The communities have until the end of October to make their decisions. The tax increase would go into effect Jan. 1.
“Public safety is the most important service we provide our residents,” Altman said. “I really don’t think this is a luxury.”
In addition to funding 911 services, the tax increase would also provide funding to expand the communications center and fund other capital improvements.
Hamilton County currently has one of the lowest local income taxes in the area. Boone and Hendricks counties charge 1.5% and Marion County charges 2.02%. Hancock County charges 1.74% after increasing the tax to fund construction of a new county jail.