Working for all of Barry County

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The ongoing debate between the Barry County 911 Emergency Services Board and the City of Monett is interesting to observe, and as with any contentious issue, there are always two sides to every story. Because this is an editorial, I will offer my views, which support a countywide E-911 system without subsidy of Monett's existing system.

It is our conclusion that this situation is an example of the old adage "what goes around, comes around." Ever since I have served as editor of this newspaper, I have witnessed a certain mentality displayed by some Monett officials. Rather than working with all of Barry County, Monett seems determined to take care of Monett first without thought of how their actions might negatively impact Barry County as a whole or how their cooperating with other entities might benefit more citizens.

Monett voters passed a phone tariff to establish 911 service in their city in 1993 while Barry County voters rejected a similar proposal back in 1995. When the issue came up again for a vote in June of 2005, Monett had the opportunity to work with fire chiefs from across Barry County to promote this issue that ultimately will produce a well-funded, fully operational county-wide E-911 Center. But instead of joining forces with the Barry County contingent, Monett officials seemed only interested in protecting what was theirs rather than working together with the rest of Barry County to provide the entire population with a top notch system that would be financed through a sales tax rather than a phone tariff, which has proven to be a less than perfect funding mechanism Monett had the chance to jump on the band wagon and figure out a way to meld the two systems together. Once again, the powers that be in Monett wanted to go it alone and keep their system in place at the expense of service to all of Barry County.

Back on May 25, 2005, I wrote an editorial criticizing the Monett 911 Commission for their refusal to fully support the county-wide issue. Monett 911 Commission Chairman Jack Schultz claimed that my editorial was all wrong in a letter to the editor published on June 1, 2005. We published that letter in its entirety.

Although no formal negative campaign was actually launched against the county-wide E-911 tax, no real effort was made to promote the issue by Monett officials and no reasonable effort was made to work with the rest of Barry County on this issue. The majority of Monett voters cast ballots in favor of the system, but I think that's because they believed a sales tax was a better way of funding a 911 system and they were wanting a broader, more reliable system.

Criticism of the current E-911 Board is ludicrous in light of the history of this issue. How can the Monett group expect the Barry County board to bow to their wishes now when they were unwilling to cooperate when the proposal was in the planning stages? It would not be fair to all the citizens of Barry County to subsidize the Monett 911 system. We think it's time that Monett realize it cannot support 911 with a phone tariff and let Barry County take over and provide emergency service to all of Barry County. If Monett is unwilling to take this route, then they need to come up with their own means of supporting their own independent system. We are sure this opinion and this editorial will not please Monett officials, but we feel strongly that the needs of all of Barry County should come before the needs of one city entity. I would love to see Monett work with other cities for the benefit of the entire county instead of always looking out for number one at the expense of the rest of us. We are also tired of hearing the claims that Monett provides more sales tax than other cities and therefore somehow deserves to be placed above other areas of the county. We are all blessed to live in a county that is growing and thriving. In fact, some of the largest growth is occurring in Shell Knob and Seligman. Instead of working independently of one another, we should be cooperating and coming up with solutions to serve all county citizens not just a select group.

We also deny the allegations that the County E-911 Board and the Barry County Commission are going back on "promises" made to Monett before the election. There were no promises made. We were at those meetings and several different ideas were discussed, but in every discussion, the commissioners made it perfectly clear that the final decision would be up to the E-911 Board and that they did not have any authority to make funding promises. In fact, let me quote from Schultz's letter to the editor dated June 1, 2005. He wrote: "Once the 911 commissioners are elected, the Barry County Commissioners have no more control over the Barry County 911 system." Schultz also wrote in his letter that "There have been no arrangements for the Monett 911 system to receive any money from the Barry County sales tax."

The E-911 Board is made up of outstanding citizens who have spent countless hours planning for a new county-wide system. Their volunteer efforts should be applauded, not criticized. On the same note, the Barry County Commission does not deserve to be taken to task for something that ultimately lies beyond their jurisdiction. Maybe this situation will be the catalyst that motivates Monett to work with the rest of Barry County.