COLUMBIA — Boone County voters approved a new sales tax Tuesday to pay for 911 dispatch and emergency management services after months of campaigning by county officials.
The final count was 10,934 votes, or 56.82 percent, in favor of the tax to 8,309, or 43.18 percent, in opposition.
The three-eighths-cent sales tax takes effect Oct. 1 and will generate an estimated $9.3 million per year to finance construction of a new 911 and emergency management center that county officials have said will withstand an F5 tornado. It also will allow the county to hire more call-takers and to upgrade radio equipment and information technology hardware and software.
Supporters mingled, drank tea and munched on bread, chips and salsa while awaiting the final count at the "Yes on 1 for 911" watch party in a downstairs room of Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar. Most supporters were optimistic the tax would pass, they said, because the need was too big to say no.
Sheriff Dwayne Carey said he never doubted the tax would pass, but now that it has, his job will center on getting back to being sheriff and doing whatever the commission asks of him.
Joe Piper, the acting Operations Manager at Boone County Joint Communications, found himself speechless at a rostrum after cheers celebrated the election victory. He was floored. Piper said has been dreaming of this for years, and now that it's happened, he's thankful.
"I'm exalted to have a direction," he said.
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said the next phase is getting 911 user groups and residents involved in helping out as an advisory board. He said the commission would begin to draft a request this week for bids from architects to design the new 911 center. Atwill said he hopes to personally visit other 911 centers in surrounding counties as early as the end of this week.
Carey and others have said they hope to add up to 20 more call-takers at the dispatch center to keep pace with the rising number of calls from residents and from people using cell phones. That would mean adding another four workers per shift. Right now, only one call-taker is on duty during a single shift.
Annual operating costs for the new center are estimated at $6.4 million. The building would cost about $11.3 million, and other equipment and capital costs are estimated at $8.7 million.
The cost of retiring bonds that would finance the overhaul would be about $2.2 million for each of the next 20 years.
The new facility will be built on the county law enforcement campus on Roger I. Wilson Memorial Drive.
Supporters of the tax said it is necessary to bring up to date a 911 system that was envisioned decades ago and that has failed to keep pace with new technology and the soaring population of Boone County.
Opponents, however, argued that sales tax adversely affects the poor and that the county had not adequately detailed plans for how it would spend the money. They also noted that the existing 911 and emergency management systems operate on $3 million per year and wondered why such a huge jump in its annual budget is necessary.
Mark Flakne of Keep Columbia Free also argued that city and county officials have mismanaged their money and could have found some funding within their existing budgets to upgrade the systems.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.