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GUEST COMMENTARY: 911 tax should be seen as price tag for safety

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | 4:30 p.m. CDT; updated 8:25 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Community safety cannot be compromised.  There are certain issues and functions in our community that we must support.  Now is the time to support Joint Communications/911 and Emergency Management Services. It’s critical we vote "Yes" on April 2 for Boone County’s Proposition 1, which will provide funding for updating our 911 and Emergency Management System.  

It’s not exaggerating to say our current 911 system is out of date. Technology has changed and the system we rely on cannot adequately serve our community.  Technology has changed in a way that gives citizens more opportunities to utilize the 911 system. Unfortunately, our current, antiquated 911 system can't take advantage of that greater citizen participation.

Not that many years ago we all relied on landline phones. That meant if there was a car accident to be reported, we would have to drive to a location with a landline phone to call 911. Now we all carry cellphones and place that emergency call immediately.  What that means is that 911 is now flooded with calls for the same emergency. The good news is that we have concerned citizens helping each other.  The bad news is that Joint Communications is so overwhelmed with calls regarding one incident that they may not be available to handle a call for a different emergency.

Did you know that today we have one call-taker for all 160,000 citizens in Boone County?  That’s concerning to me.

In an emergency, waiting three to four minutes for your 911 call to be answered is just not acceptable. And even worse would be getting an answering machine. I believe our community expects their calls to be answered immediately when they place a 911 emergency call. That just isn’t happening today.

Boone County’s 911 system is failing to meet national safety standards. Our equipment is outdated, and our staffing does not allow us to handle the call volume.  You may be surprised to learn that our 911 equipment is so outdated that in certain instances, staff is searching eBay in hopes of finding replacement parts.   

A careful study was conducted by a group of highly qualified Boone County citizens charged with examining the current state of Joint Communications and Emergency Management Services. The overwhelming conclusion was that the facilities, equipment and personnel staffing levels are inadequate to handle current and future needs of our community. The time is now for us to upgrade the system.

No one wants to think about a disaster striking our community. I’m sure the Joplin community didn’t want to think about it either. But it happened and something similar could happen in our community, too. Now is the time for us to plan and prepare for a potential emergency. The recent snow storms highlight the need for us to be prepared.

Passing Proposition 1 would allow our community the benefit of up-to-date technology and adequate staff so that first responders can do what they’ve been so well trained to do.  

Supporting Proposition 1 will put our mind at ease. It will enable enough staff to be hired, new equipment to be purchased and provide a secure facility built to survive a disaster when we need it. It doesn’t do us much good to have a plan in place if the disaster team can’t activate the plan.

Our community is facing a crisis with our 911 and Emergency Management systems, and this additional sales tax is essential to the ongoing safety of the citizens of Boone County.

When we dial 911 we want to count on an immediate response. It can mean the difference between life and death. You can’t put a price on safety. I urge you to vote "Yes" on 1 for 911 on Tuesday, April 2.  

 Karen Taylor is a Columbia resident.


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Comments

Mark Flakne March 27, 2013 | 5:06 p.m.

There is little doubt that the Boone County Emergency Management and Joint Communications 911 system faces serious operational challenges and difficulties. Something should be done to address its problems, but a tax hike to fund an exorbitant, unaccountable budget is not the correct approach.

Taxes are already high and this proposed tax increase will push the sales tax rate in many local stores to over 8 percent. A tax increase on basic goods is ill-conceived, especially when many families are struggling to survive in a troubled economy.

In fact, we citizens are already paying enough to fund these emergency operations, but decades of financial mismanagement at the hands of elected officials and government bureaucrats have squandered these funds. Our elected officials have neglected these fundamental emergency services in favor of other more glamorous and less needed budgetary objectives aimed at making headlines rather than providing safety. The proposed tax hike is nothing more than a bailout from the taxpayer for these elected leaders who have misspent our hard-earned tax dollars.

The proposed 911 budget stands as an excessive increase that will more than triple the current annual budget, moving it from $2.7 million to $8.7 million, and concentrate $20 million in the hands of just three county commissioners in the first year alone. These professional politicians, each with an annual salary in excess of $80,000, rule by consensus. No guarantees and few details have been released about the planned $11.3 million building or how the remainder of the $20 million lump sum and the $8.7 million annual budget will be spent. It is wrongheaded to take these extra funds from the citizens and pay them to the county government where there is limited representation, no firm plans for the new multi-million dollar building, no accountability, and no guarantee that our current crop of elected officials and appointed bureaucrats will be better stewards of these funds than those of the past.

We demand that politicians find a way to adequately fund and manage our 911 services without further burdening the hardworking taxpayers of Boone County. We demand that our elected officials examine their spending priorities and work within their existing means.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne March 27, 2013 | 5:09 p.m.

Just when I thought the list of problems with Boone County Proposition #1, the 911 tax increase, couldn’t conceivably grow any longer, another problem has come to light. The newest problem might actually be the biggest problem of all. It seems that the authors of the tax increase and funding plan failed to write a sunset provision into the proposal.

The new sales tax, that will affect every purchase from food to Ferraris, will generate an estimated $9.3 million annually. Of this $9.3 million, $2.2 million will repay the bond debt incurred to purchase $8.7 million worth of new equipment and build an $11.3 million above-ground bunker. $6.4 million of the $9.3 million will fund the annual budget. That leaves around $600,000 unaccounted for, but who’s counting?

So what happens if the economy recovers and the new sales tax generates more funds than estimated? Even without an economic boom the CID sales tax far outperformed estimations. So what happens to the $2.2 million in annual debt payments when the bond debt is completely retired?

My guess is that it will become the only two words Boone County politicians and bureaucrats love to hear more than “tax increase…,”

…SLUSH FUND!

And remember, it’s only $2.2 million if the economy fails to improve and we fail to add the extra $600,000 into the slushy equation.

Without a sunset provision, this tax has the potential to create a slush fund well in excess of $3 million per year. What more could a rural Missouri county government ask for?

With both the proposed and impending state sales tax increases coupled with the 911 tax, Columbia’s sales tax will be pushed to at least 8% with the possibility of ending up well over 9%. Our city and county governments will get a taxpayer bailout after decades of poor financial stewardship. We will have an Emergency Management castle on the Sheriff’s campus that was neither vetted by the public nor subject to competition from any alternative plans. This grandiose plan and budget will be controlled by just three county commissioners and an advisory board comprised of government bureaucrats and a few hand-picked citizens. And all the while the City of Columbia will go on wasting money on parking garages, airline guarantees, and refinishing Blind Boone’s bathroom instead of funding public safety — all on the backs of our hardworking taxpayers.

Oh yes, and Boone County will have its very own slush fund as soon that the debt is paid.

We must stop this silliness and demand that our elected leaders come back to the table with a reasonable plan and a new set of fiscal priorities that put basic public safety at the top of the list and pet projects at the bottom.

Boone County 911 Emergency Management and Joint Communication must be fixed immediately without further burdening the taxpayer.

(Report Comment)

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