Bonds needed for EMS center

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Allen County commissioners Tuesday took the first concrete step toward remodeling and expansion of the old United Electric Cooperative building, 410 N. State, for 911 dispatch and other emergency services, when they voted to issue bonds of up to $400,000 to pay for the work.
Commissioners said they would issue the bonds either as a standard general obligation issue, or through a public building commission (PBC), as they did with $2 million in bonds to build the jail and law enforcement center. A PBC theoretically would own the facility until the county paid off bonds. Issuing bonds through a PBC would not require a vote. Those issued independently by the county may, Counselor Alan Weber said.
“I’m not sure what the threshold for requiring an election is,” he told commissioners Tuesday, and said today he had not had time to research the matter. If an election weren’t a requirement, one could be brought about by petition, which also would be true of bonds issued through a public building commission.
In the case of the law enforcement center and jail, bonds are being retired by revenue generated by housing prisoners in the jail, mainly those from out-of-county. General obligation bonds may be retired with revenue from a tax levy or money the county accumulates in its budget.
A third option commissioners said they might exercise was to pay with cash in reserve funds.
The commissioners’ take on financing will hinge on what they learn about potential costs.
Plans are to remodel the interior of the building for a 911 dispatch center, an emergency operations center and living quarters for county ambulance crews. An attached garage will be built to house ambulances.
Jason Nelson, ambulance director, gave commissioners “rough” estimates of what it may cost to move the county ambulance service to the structure. He estimated $160,000 to $240,000. Remodeling for a dispatch center will cost much less. A smaller area is affected and no additional construction will be needed.
Soon, commissioners will decide how to go about developing plans for the building. They are uncertain whether an architect or engineer will be needed. Design work may be done in-house. In either case, plans will have to stand up to Iola building codes.
Whatever occurs, “it would be nice to be in the building before cold weather,” Commissioner Rob Francis said. Nelson agreed, noting that the county is paying $2,000 a month rent plus utilities to house ambulances and personnel in a building near the Jump Start Travel Center in east Iola.

COMMISSIONERS met with the 911 Advisory Board and made official its composition. On the board are chiefs of police Jared Warner, Iola, Dan Onnen, Humboldt, and Shane Smith, Moran, Sheriff Tom Williams, Nelson and Iola Fire Chief Don Leapheart. Alan Weber, county counselor, is an ex officio member.
Commissioners’ first personnel task will be to hire a director. Also, they agreed with advisory board members that current dispatchers should be permitted to transfer to county employment. It was noted that while dispatchers will be required to fill out county employment paperwork, they won’t have to formally apply for a job with the county.
“We want to be fair and equitable and have the employee transfer be as seamless as possible,” Sheriff Williams said. Commissioners agreed.
Dispatchers will be encouraged to share ideas about how best to refit the North State Street building to accommodate the 911 center.