County 911 board and Monett officials at odds

Thursday, June 29, 2006

On June 26, the Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Board discussed county 911 sales tax revenues with members of the Monett 911 Board and Monett City Council.

"What is offered presently is not acceptable and the voters are concerned," said Jack Schulz, Monett 911 Advisory Board chairman. "We have a good working system that has performed well and has been updated as needed. We have the most current technology. We want to keep the 911 system for the citizens of Monett."

On March 27, the Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Advisory Board passed a resolution, which would compensate the Monett 911 Board for revenues received quarterly until the Barry County E-911 system is in place.

According to Schultz, prior to the June 7 vote, which established the county-wide E-911 tax, the Barry County Commission told Monett 911 board members that the county 911 board would supply the Monett 911 board with a portion of lost revenues.

"I learned of these discussions after I came on the board," said Bill Shiveley, Barry County E-911 Board chairman. "When the county 911 system is up and running and we prove we can do a good job, at that point there is no need for the Monett 911 if we can do the job for you."

If the Barry County E-911 Board takes over the Monett 911 system, Lawrence County residents on the Monett 911 system will no longer receive 911 system, said one member of the Monett 911 Advisory Board.

"We coexist with Lawrence County, and we don't see why we can't coexist with Barry County," said Bonnie Witt-Schulte, Monett 911 Advisory Board supervisor.

When the tornado hit Pierce City, the Monett 911 system was able to provide back-up service to the Lawrence County 911 system, said Schulte.

The Monett 911 system needs the revenues from Barry County to continue to operate its current 911 system. Monett's current phone tariff assesses 70 percent of the city's 911 operating funds from Barry County and 30 percent of the funds from Lawrence County.

According to a proposal presented by Schulz, Monett 911 Advisory Board members are asking the Barry County E-911 Board to supply Monett with $62,000 each year, during the first three years of the county 911's operation.

"As the revenues go down, we will need a mechanism in later years that will offset the depleting amount (of land lines)," said Schulz. "We would need to sit down and talk about some mechanism that would ratchet up the revenues after three years."

If the Barry County E-911 Board agrees to supply the Monett 911 Board with revenues, the Monett 911 board will rescind the city phone tariff.

Although the Monett 911 Board is asking for an increase in supplied revenues after the initial three-year period, Monett's 911 revenues would continue to decrease as the number of home-based land lines continues to decrease in the city.

"This board was established by the voters in Barry County to establish a 911 system in Barry County by a tax in Barry County," said David Cole, Barry County E-911 Board attorney. "The consensus of this board is that they were given the task to establish a Barry County 911 system.

"When they do that and can provide the system to all of Barry County, it will not cost more to cover Monett than it will cost not to cover Monett," said Cole. "You are asking this board to give you $62,000 a year not to provide 911 services to Monett. Then you want to come back in three years and ask for more money."

Shiveley asked Monett 911 Board members why they are opposed to joining the Barry County E-911 system once it is on-line with a good track record.

"That is for the city of Monett to decide," said Schulz.

"The citizens have concerns, and it needs to be the Monett citizens' choice. I can talk to the city council and find out what perimeters need to be put in place for that."

"Why would you not come on board our system?" asked Schulte. "It would save you the cost of equipment and a building."

Barry County E-911 members do not believe the Monett 911 system is currently capable of supporting the entire county.

Monett 911 Board members said that if they had known that they might not receive revenues from the Barry County E-911 tax they might have objected to the issue or told Monett citizens that passage of the tax would cause Monett citizens to be double taxed.

"The message when the election was held was that you would give Monett 911 a portion of the sales tax revenue to continue," said Schulz. "What has been proposed is absolutely contrary to what helped swing the vote for the Barry County system."

Although the Barry County Commission did agree to help support the Monett 911 system, the commissioners had no authority to ensure revenues generated by the Barry County E-911 tax would be given to the Monett 911 Board.

"The realization was that the county commission has no authority over the revenues," said Frank Washburn, Barry County northern commissioner. "We did say that the county 911 should support the Monett 911, and there was no cut-off date discussed."

Pat Leighter, Barry County E-911 director, said the county 911 system will require around $800,000 per year to be fully function. The sales tax is estimated to generate around $800,000 per year.

"One thought bothers me," said Shook. "If there was an understanding that we would reimburse Monett 911 for their lost revenue then we should do that. To me that would be the $62,000 per year."

"For how long?" asked Leighter. "My fear is that the money they want will take away from your project. Monett is a part of Barry County as much as everyone else. I just don't want to see the rest of the county suffer."

The $62,000 revenue that the Monett 911 Board is requesting would pay the salaries of three dispatchers, said Leighter.

The Barry County E-911 issue was passed on the idea that the tax would also support Monett 911's lost revenues, said Shook.

"I would disagree with that," said Cole. "If you look at the numbers, no one knows for sure, but I don't agree that you can make that argument."

More of the tax revenues are being generated by sales in the Monett area than in another other portion of the county, said Murray Bishop, Monett Times managing editor.

"I don't think the board has a greater obligation to citizens of Monett then citizens of Wheaton or Shell Knob," said Cole. "I don't think it makes a difference where the financial revenues are coming from. The citizens of Barry County that live in Monett are the same as the citizens that live by the OK church house."

Even if the Barry County Health Department receives more revenues from the city of Monett then from other areas in the county, the health department should not be allowed to spend more money in Monett than the rest of the county, said Cole.

In other business, the Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Advisory Board:

• Approved the filing dates and ballot language for the November election of board members.

• Decided to hire a mowing service to maintain the site of the future Barry County 911 center on Business 37.

• Heard the director's report.

The next Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Advisory Board meeting will be held on July 24.

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