As a fiscal conservative and resident of Hamilton County, I will always take interest when our government proposes a tax increase - especially in a community with a growing population and therefore, tax base. Just last week, after a public hearing was held, the Fishers City Council approved an additional 911 “Dispatch Tax” to be assessed on top of our current income tax rate; raising it from 1.0% to 1.1%. This means that in 2020, the Dispatch Tax will cause a 10% increase in the income taxes we pay - now that council bodies representing more than 50% of Hamilton County’s population (based on 2010 census data) have approved the increase. To be clear, I don’t seek to be an obstructionist, but rather to assess whether our communities are making prudent, fiscally sound and necessary taxpayer-funded decisions, or not.
At the Fishers City Council meeting, Mayor Scott Fadness explained the history and present circumstances that led to this vote. The details include:
In 2012, Hamilton County cities consolidated their dispatch services for efficiency.
Currently, this is funded by (1) 911 telephone fees and (2) payments from cities.
Now, elected leaders propose that a county-wide tax revenue stream should be created.
The Town of Arcadia recently started the process by passing a resolution.
Now, city or county councils representing at least 50% of residents must approve the tax increase in order for it to take effect.
Adding the tax is said to improve interoperability and interconnectivity of all of Hamilton County’s 911 services. (centralized equipment purchasing, dispatch funding, etc…)
During the public hearings, resident Mike Colby spoke in opposition to the tax, believing that money being allocated to other non-essential development projects should be redirected to pay for this service instead of adding an additional tax. He also stated that Fishers currently pays around $1.2M towards county 911 services. I also participated in the public hearing by asking what specific problems exist in our 911 services that would be fixed by adding this voluntary tax. The public hearing then concluded. (Only two people, including myself, spoke.) The Mayor responded afterwards and addressed Mr. Colby’s concern about alternative revenue streams, indicating that the State of Indiana has capped the amount that phone carriers can charge for 911 services - therefore, that revenue stream is flat, and contracting in some cases. My question about current deficiencies in our emergency services was not addressed.
Other news reports have indicated that this tax increase would generate an additional $7M+ beyond what our current county 911 system is receiving. Due to this surplus, it is suggested that technology and equipment may be purchased and managed by the county instead of the individual communities to the tune of $2.5M. But this still leaves $4.5M of unallocated surplus.
Concerns & Conclusions
We frequently hear from city leadership that each additional “small” tax increase is a simple compromise of just “giving up a cup of Starbucks coffee each week.” But how many times can that analogy be used to justify another tax increase before you can no longer buy a single cup of coffee? To be more direct, how many times can a “small” tax increase be tacked on until some of our long-standing residents can no longer afford to live in our wonderful community? Even further, are these frequent tax increases equivalent to “death by a thousand cuts” for some residents in our communities? It’s especially troubling that these voluntary tax increases haven’t yet been demonstrated to be necessary or fixing an observable problem.
In reviewing the details provided concerning this Dispatch Tax increase, there are many lingering questions that beg an answer.
Are our emergency services currently experiencing issues that will be resolved by this tax increase?
What will each community do with the funds they currently pay for 911 services ($1.2M in the case of Fishers), that will be replaced by a tax taken directly from our paychecks?
How will the $4.5M+ of excess funding be used by our emergency services?
To be clear, I AM NOT opposed to ensuring that our emergency service personnel are well-equipped with the best technology and most efficient processes are implemented. But, I’m not yet convinced that this 911 tax is being proposed for exclusively that purpose. If my questions above can be satisfactorily answered by our elected officials, then I could be convinced. However, as it stands, I’m not convinced that the 911 tax is essential. Despite my concerns and those residents who have taken to Facebook and Nextdoor with their opposing comments, this tax increase was approved following a unanimous vote of the Noblesville Common Council and will be collected in 2020 from ALL Hamilton County residents’ paychecks.
As a follow-up to the council meeting and other topics raised, I met with Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness to address various resident concerns about taxes in the community and discuss strategies to address the existing disparity of tax distribution between cities and towns in Hamilton County. In a later post, I will discuss the topic and outcome of my discussion with the Mayor. What are your thoughts about the 911 tax increase? Back on August 1 st , Founding Member David Giffel warned this new tax was coming. You can read his warning here. Logan Day was a candidate for Mayor of Fishers in the GOP May primary . He has been a strong advocate for Save The Trails movement and recently joined the FCoHC to represent Fishers on our board of Directors.