By Stephanie Malench
The Highland City Council voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city and Madison County allowing City Manager Chris Conrad to go into discussions regarding consolidating both emergency and non-emergency dispatch services with the County in 2023.
The decision has come after eight months of research and discussion following a new state law requiring all 911 calls be consolidated by the end of 2022.
Keeping the city’s dispatch services for non-emergency calls only would cost $486,000, $10,000 of which is annual expenses for the City’s connection to Madison County that serves the City’s current records management and CAD system plus digital radio communications connections. The rest is the telecommunicators’ salaries, benefits, etc.
Moving everything to the county would cost only $250,000, saving Highland taxpayers $236,000 each year.
Highland Police Telecommunicators (TCs) representative Courtney Yearian spoke during the public forum at the beginning of the meeting on behalf of the telecommunicators asking the council not to approve the memo of understanding. Yearian said during the last eight months there had only been one conversation involving the TCs .
Yearian was joined by five TCs, 17 police officers, Highland EMS/Fire personnel, and family members in the council chambers.
She and several supporters spoke against the plan, saying that TCs in the county TC Center will not be able to provide the same quality response times because they do not necessarily know the community as well as the TCs that live in Highland had have worked there for years.
Yearian also said that not having TC at the public safety building 24/7 means it can no longer be a Safe Place for those seeking protection or a safe location for conducting online sales exchanges.
Conrad stated both in his letter to the council and during the council discussion that “after thorough review of the research, I have not found a viable alternative to consolidation of these services. Factors taken into consideration for this recommendation, as can be inferred from the staff report, have included financial, operational and liability concerns”.
Conrad also stated that the new public safety building was designed knowing this mandate to consolidate was coming down from the state (passed in the state legislature in 2015). The only other communities that have not consolidated their TC with the county are Troy and Madison, and they will have to by 2023. Failure to willingly consolidate would lead to the county routing 911 calls through Collinsville, which “is not ideal”, considering Madison County is “already dispatching all the departments around us both fire and police post-consolidation.
The City Council also heard the presentation of findings for the combined annual financial report from Mark Korte from Scheffel Boyle. The city’s finances were well in the black with total assets exceeding liabilities by approximately $76 million (net), a 7% increase over the course of the 2021.
Non-home rule taxes increased 7.6% and sales tax revenue incrased 6.1% for the year ending April 30, 2021.
Equalized assessed values of properties increased 2.9% and property tax revenue went up 1.5% over 2020.
The last report for the evening was by Director of Technology & Innovation Angela Imming explaining the progress of the new Victory TV release.
All subscribers will be switched over to the new service before the end of the year. Highland Communication Services will assist all subscribers with the switch, including teaching them how to use the fire stick, which is included for free with each box.
Residents can set up their own appointment by calling (618)654-1519. Representatives will call those who do not self-initiate to make an appointment. Trainings will also be given at the Highland Senior Center for those needing extra help.
Three ordinances were passed abating taxes levied for 2021 taxes payable in 2022 for three sets of general obligation bonds: 2013 Sewerage System, 2020 Refunding (TIF), and 2013 Street bonds. This is possible to the funds exceeding the revenue requirements for the bonds.
Two more change orders were approved for the new public safety building, including new cabinets in the shift commander’s office for the gun safe and additional lighting protection for the additional HVAC equipment on the roof.
The council also approved a dontation of a 4-5 foot strip of land between the new Public Safety Building and the St. Joseph’s Hospital by The Hospital Sisters of The Third Order of St. Francis. The donation will allow an access Rd to be built stragh connecting both buildings to Highway 40.
The next regular meeting will be held October 18 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.