County wants to pay cash for public safety data project

The Anoka County Board wants to pay cash, not bond, for an integrated public safety data project.

But it will have to go to the 2014 Minnesota Legislature for approval to do so.

That’s because the 2012 Legislature gave the county the authority to sell up to $8 million in bonds to pay for the project and place a $1 million line item on the annual property tax statement until the debt is paid off.

Now the county board, through action at its Feb. 11 meeting, is asking the Legislature this coming session to change the language of the 2012 bill to allow the county the flexibility to pay for the project from county funds, not through bonding.

According to Cevin Petersen, county division manager for finance and central services, county board policy has changed in the past couple of years from bonding for capital improvement projects to paying for them as part of the regular budget process through the property tax levy.

The line item first appeared on the 2013 property tax statement and will also be on the 2014 tax statement, Petersen said.

But after the 2015 tax statement the line item will go away, even though the legislation allows it to continue through 2023, he said.

The county will pay the balance with cash, Petersen said.

“No property tax increase is planned,” he said. “The county has sufficient reserves through budget savings in recent years to pay for the project.”

In the event the Legislature does not approve the county’s request, then he will go into the bond market to sell $2 million in bonds for the project, and pay off the debt the same day, according to Petersen.

“The county would have to pay $20,000 in bond issuance costs if we have to sell some bonds,” Petersen said.

According to County Commissioner Carol LeDoux, the request to the Legislature is in keeping with county policy to give local government the flexibility to make local decisions using regular expenditures.

“We want to use money we already have to save money in the long run,” said County Commissioner Matt Look.

The project will put in place one integrated and all-encompassing system that combines records and data of all 11 law enforcement agencies and 15 fire departments in the county, plus the Anoka County Jail and Anoka County Central Communications 911 dispatch.

The first of three contracts, and the largest, was awarded Nov. 12, 2013 to TriTech Software Systems in an amount not to exceed $6,109,622 for the law enforcement component.

The remaining two contracts, one for fire records and the other for an upgrade of the jail records and interface, are less expensive at an estimated $730,000 and $695,000, respectively.

Those two contracts are still being negotiated, but Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, who chairs the Anoka County Joint Law Enforcement Council spearheading the project along with the Anoka County Fire Protection Council, hopes they are both ready for approval in a month.

Meantime, work on the law enforcement system has started and is on schedule, according to Palumbo.

Hardware and software are being purchased and installed and the vendor is working with the Anoka County Information Technology Department to integrate the new system into the county data center, Palumbo said.

The goal is to have the integrated public data system completed in 18 to 24 months.