Tax for new 911 dispatch center to appear on April ballot

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | 9:56 p.m. CST; updated 10:57 a.m. CDT, Thursday, March 14, 2013

COLUMBIA — A three-eighths of a cent sales tax proposal will be added to the April 2 ballot to raise funds for emergency management services and the construction of a larger, up-to-date joint communications and dispatch facility, after a unanimous vote of the Boone County Commission Tuesday morning.

The sales tax would generate roughly $9.3 million per year, according to Boone County Auditor June Pitchford.

The commission decided on the tax proposal after reviewing a 136-page report from the 911 Emergency Management Advisory Board, a team of nine members who have evaluated how the current system meets the needs of Boone County residents.

According to a press release from the Boone County Commission, the board concluded the current facilities were not suitable for technology-related changes, the growing number of residents, increased workloads for employees and a proliferation of calls due to the use of cell phones.

“The report was very comprehensive and well-done, evidencing a sincere effort on the part of the board members to understand the problem that exists,” Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said. “A serious effort needs to be made to correct those problems as soon as possible.”

The projected facility would be built to withstand serious storms and operate in the event of a local disaster, outfitted with updated technology and have a policy regarding upgrades, according to the release.

Atwill pulled out pictures of the current joint communications facility to illustrate the issues with lack of space and outdated technology. Images show exposed wires and sensitive radio equipment in a cramped room next to an emergency generator and two large batteries, which have nearly damaged equipment before. Inadequte storage space results in a hallway line with piles of boxes full of documents and a copy machine.

Atwill said he is hopeful citizens will pass the tax for the benefit of people in Boone County. He said the commission will seek state and federal support in addition to the sales tax, but it can't be counted on to bring in the funding for the necessary changes. 

“It seems like it ought to be a phone call to get help, but it’s so much more than that,” Atwill said. "It involves personnel manning the phones 24 hours a day, with three employees working eight-hour shifts," he said.

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