By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

YCOM holds dues to bare minimum

County Administrator Laura Tschabold said YCOM would need to hike its dues bite 15 percent to fully cover expenditures for its critical 911 dispatch center operation. But recognizing that wasn’t going to prove politically viable, she recommended 6.

When the committee decided to halve that, Sheriff Jack Crabtree cast a strongly worded dissent. He said he was disappointed with the decision emerging from the process.

“People want somebody to answer the phone when they call for help,” he said. “I believe it is irresponsible to not pay the cost of running this critical service.”

Crabtree said YCOM, a consortium of eight fire districts, five police agencies and three ambulance services, has a long history of keeping its dues artificially low. He said that simply sets the stage for sharp future increases, and he well recalls the last time it happened.

“Back then, I vowed I wouldn’t contribute to putting us in that position again,” terming 3 percent a low-ball number destined to do just that. “There’s going to be a day of reckoning,” he predicted.

Tschabold agreed.

She said it serves to underscore what analysts have been warning “for 10 years or more.” The agency is on a collision course for a negative opening balance, she said.

“If you don’t have another source of revenue, or you don’t keep your dues increases at a certain level, the organization is unsustainable,” Tschabold said. 

While committee members professed to understand, they expressed doubt about the ability of some of the agency’s smaller partners to ante up.

“One of the problems I see is, if we keep the rates going up at 7 percent, we’re unsustainable anyway,” said Budget Committee Chair Rick Mishler. “We won’t have anyone to pay it, so we won’t have to worry about it.”

Crabtree responded, “Regarding concerns about not being in business in the future, obviously, we will be in business. We don’t have an option.

“We’re just going to have to figure out how to pay for it. We have to stick together and get this thing done right.”

To balance the budget without a bigger dues infusion, YCOM Director Janis Cameron is proposing to eliminate one each of her three supervisors, 11 dispatchers and two radio technicians.

She is proposing to cut the supervisor position effective with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and the dispatcher and technician positions mid-way through.

Cameron admitted the cuts would put a strain on operations. It just comes down to revenue not keeping up with costs, she said. But she promised not to “put the public, or our services, in jeopardy.”

“Expenses everywhere are going up exponentially,” agreed budget committee member Dennis Rogers. “Everybody is facing that.”

However, YCOM is confronting some additional challenges.

For example, the take from taxes levied on telephone service to help cover 911 costs has been falling steadily, because of cellphone users dropping their landlines. As a result, a source that used to cover 31 percent of YCOM’s expenses now pays only 22 percent.

Like other public agencies, YCOM is also taking a big PERS hit.

During the 2009-10 fiscal year, personnel costs rose 10 percent, dues revenue only 2 percent. Results were better in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but in 2012-13, personnel costs are up 11 percent, dues revenue only 3 percent.

The trend is troubling to Crabtree.

“I’d rather pay a little more each year than low-ball it with a 3 percent increase,” he said. “I can tell you right now, we’re already lean.”

Committee member Rita Baller said many of the county’s small cities have already completed their budget process. At this point, she said, requesting more dues money would be “uncomfortable” for them.

Mishler agreed, saying, “I’m not willing to try to force an agency into something it can’t accept.”

Crabtree said he would do everything possible to make it work.

“This is a service that requires a responsible level of support by its users,” he said. “We will hold bake sales before we opt out of YCOM.”

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