The city of Keokuk filed a lawsuit Wednesday afternoon, seeking to maintain emergency dispatch services despite not signing an agreement to remain a member of the county’s 911 center. The lawsuit also asks the court to not tax Keokuk residents for a service they might not be able to use.
The lawsuit identifies five defendants:
- Lee County PSAP Association (LeeComm)
- Lee County
- Lee County Emergency Management Commission
- Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise
- LeeComm Executive Director Diana Fincher-Smith
Keokuk states on the first page of the lawsuit that it was forced to take legal action by the oversight board for the county’s emergency dispatch center (LeeComm).
“In 2009, City of Keokuk’s Emergency Dispatch Center was replaced with the entity LeeComm to administer a Public Safety Answering Point, or “PSAP.” This was accomplished through an intergovernmental Agreement authorized by Chapter 28E of the Iowa Code. This agreement terminates on June 30, 2016. After 7 months of negotiations, the parties have failed to produce a valid and operable 28E agreement acceptable to the community leaders and taxpayers of Keokuk. The current entity refuses to answer questions of funding and service beginning July 1 of 2016, and Keokuk has exhausted all other methods to bring clarity to what occurs after that date.”
This point was made evident during a meeting of the LeeComm oversight board last month. Keokuk City Administrator Aaron Burnett asked several questions about how the center would be funded if Keokuk was not a member of the organization, to which board member Paul Walker, who is the mayor of West Point, responded, “Find out, get a lawyer.”
The lawsuit provides a detailed timeline for how the seven months of negotiations on a new contract to continue LeeComm beyond June 30, 2016 took place, including an attempt to negotiate a new deal that was moderated by Lee County Attorney Mike Short. That effort stopped once the Lee County Board of Supervisors approved the extension, leaving Keokuk as the lone member of LeeComm to not sign on.
Keokuk has said repeatedly it has many concerns about the proposed multi-year extension.
“Proposals for language for a new agreement were made by both the City of Keokuk, through Police Chief [Dave] Hinton and by the City of Fort Madison, through City Manager David Varley. Although similar language was used in both proposals and substantively they are largely similar, a number of policy differences existed between the two, especially in regard to the duration, the number of votes required for passage, the function of the proposed User Oversight Committee, and the distribution of property should the agreement terminate. None of Keokuk’s proposals described… made it to the final “Proposed 28E agreement.”
The city also questions the legality of the actual language in the multi-year extension for LeeComm.
“Keokuk is also concerned that the proposed 28E agreement does not meet the statutory required provisions required for a valid 28E agreement. In particular, the proposed 28E does not describe ‘the permissible method or methods to be employed in accomplishing the partial or complete termination of the agreement…’ required by [Iowa Code] 28E.5(5), and specifies that the duration will be “indefinite” with no additional explanation, beyond a review that could occur after two years if certain conditions are met.”
The lawsuit addresses another point of contention for Keokuk.
A countywide property tax levy will be the sole funding source for LeeComm starting July 1, 2016. Previously, a tax levy paid for employee benefits while the members contributed the rest. The new levy is expected to generate about $900,000 the first year.
Keokuk claims in the lawsuit that the county had no authority to implement the levy. It states that the levy can only be used to fund LeeComm as provided in the 28E agreement between the members of the emergency dispatch center.
“The proposed 28E does not, as alleged [earlier], meet the statutory requirements for a 28E agreement as it fails to provide the five elements required for a valid 28E agreement. As of the date the Lee County [Emergency Management Commission] budget was submitted, and the date the Lee County budget was certified, Keokuk still was attempting to negotiate language of the 28E agreement and had questions regarding the funding mechanism.”
“The Lee County EMA approved budget could not have properly included funding for LeeComm as part of the budget as no proper 28E agreement had been finalized or filed. The Lee County EMA budget improperly did include over $900,000 for LeeComm’s Joint Emergency Communications. The Lee County certified budget and levies could not have properly included funding for LeeComm as part of the budget as no proper 28E agreement had been finalized or filed.”
“Because of Defendants’ breach and failure to properly perform their duties, [Keokuk] and [Keokuk’s] citizens will suffer reasonably concrete damages beginning July 1, 2016 when the taxes are collected. Additionally or alternatively, the Citizens of the City of Keokuk will be double taxed to provide dispatch services if Keokuk is required to set up a local dispatch center for its Police and Fire Services.”
In its lawsuit and a temporary injunction filed, Keokuk is asking the court to:
- Hold a hearing on the matter;
- Issue a ruling ordering defendants to continue providing emergency dispatch services for Keokuk until a new extension of LeeComm is negotiated or until Keokuk can reopen its own dispatch center;
- Issue an order to correct and re-certify Lee County’s budget and levies and the Lee County Emergency Management Commission budget to eliminate the new countywide levy to fund LeeComm;
- Prevent the defendants from collecting or distributing funds from the levy.
The lawsuit was filed roughly 24 hours before the next meeting of the LeeComm board, which will be held at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 1:00 pm on Thursday, June 9.