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  • New SECC Means Emergency for Scott County Taxpayers PDF Print E-mail
    Commentary/Politics - Editorials
    Written by Kathleen McCarthy   
    Wednesday, 02 February 2011 10:39

    SECC911For the past decade, taxpayers have felt helpless while Congress, along with the host of bureaucrats behind the scenes, spends our tax dollars like drunken sailors. Well, we may not be able to effect the change we desire at the federal level, but we absolutely can create such change here at home, at the city and county levels.

    Since 2007, the creation, via Iowa Code 28E (new legislation that allows the formation of intergovernmental agreements to include emergency-management projects that cede jurisdictional authority to a newly created body), of the Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC) has ballooned into a massive new expenditure on the backs of Scott County taxpayers.

    Through a series of ever-intrusive policies, including burgeoning agency authority in the newly established SECC board that is autonomous of county supervisory oversight, and a “no-cap tax levy” as an ongoing and mandatory means to pay for the facility, including its building and operations, the SECC is scheduled to open for business in late March 2011.

    SECC began as a proposal to consolidate the area’s emergency-dispatch system under one umbrella operation, promising to save taxpayers $4.6 million over 20 years. In truth, not only is there no savings, but it will cost Scott County taxpayers $7 million annually, up from the $4 million per year it would have cost if we had followed Virginia consultant CTA Communications’ “Scott County Emergency Responders Consolidation” study we paid $103,000 for in 2006.

    What was supposed to be the consolidation of a specific service – emergency dispatching – occupying 6,000 square feet at a cost of $2 million plus another $4 million to equip it has morphed into a monstrous 28,000-square-foot facility, costing us $14 million for the building and other improvements, and another $14 million for equipment, plus an additional $3 million for the GIS that provides mapping for emergency management.

    There is no possible justification for the sheer magnitude of a facility such as this serving a county population of 166,650 in 2009 (up from 158,668 in 2000). Which begs the question: Why? My prediction is that this is one of a string of such facilities that will dot the heartland – federal Fusion Centers – established on the backs of taxpayers in county jurisdictions. In other words, county taxes are paying the lion’s share of a federal facility under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security.

    And even though Scott County has received approximately $6.2 million in federal and state grants, the cost to taxpayers in qualifying for these public funds has been egregious. We ultimately will have spent $31 million to attract $6.2 million in grant funds for SECC . This is fiscal incompetence, especially under current economic conditions. The new SECC now represents the second-largest budget item in the county budget.

    NOTE: On February 1, 2011 the Scott County Emergency Management Agency (SCEMA) held a public hearing for the SECC911 FY12 Annual Budget.  Iowans For Accountability has posted a video of this public hearing and a blog posting by Reader publisher Todd McGreevy accompanies the video.

    In 2007, at the time the SECC project was voted on by Davenport and Bettendorf city councils and the Scott County Board of Supervisors, the public was told the levy would be 53 cents per $1,000. Now, in 2011, the rate is actually 90 cents per $1,000! And this is a “no-cap tax levy”! This is only the beginning, folks. The new legislative authority for this levy is found in 29C of the Iowa Code. You can bet this new taxing ability will be implemented whenever and wherever possible.

    In the case of SECC, all three bodies ceded authority for all expenditures to the SECC board, which has the newly created authority to spend its budget without oversight by those we elected to do just that. In other words, the two city councils and county board completely abdicated their fiduciary responsibility in this extremely critical matter by giving SECC carte blanche.

    Consider that the county’s own commissioned study, which under the intergovernmental agreement that formed SECC dictated that it be followed for implementing any dispatch-system-consolidation plan, was partially abandoned in practice along the way. The study showed that we could have spent $3 million and gotten the same level of service – a functioning integrated-dispatching system – at a fraction of the cost. Instead, we got something entirely different, without the knowledge – let alone the consent – of the public.

    Our supervisors indebted us by bonding for $14 million in equipment costs (including interest, but not including the $3-million bond for the GIS) for 20 years, even though the equipment has an estimated life of seven years at worst, 10 years at best. So we will be paying for equipment for at least 10 years beyond its useful life. Obviously, we will need to purchase replacement equipment along the way, and odds are high it will be more costly in the future. No problem, because there is a “no-cap tax levy” available to pay for it.