By voting to place a one-eighth of a cent sales tax issue on the November ballot, the Barry County E-911 Board is looking to increase its revenue and keep the emergency center operational.
Last year, the E-911 Board's existing one-quarter of a cent sales tax generated $885,544 in sales tax revenue, which was considerably less than what the tax was generating prior to the recession, said Board President Jon Horner.
An additional one-eighth of a cent is projected to produce $425,000 to $450,000 a year, which would give the board an annual budget of around $1.3 million to operate the Barry County E-911 Center if voters approve the upcoming ballot issue.
The need for additional operating revenue was first made public during a meeting held at the end of May. At that time, Horner said the board was facing possible bankruptcy due to the recession and a costly lawsuit with the City of Monett over its tax increment financing (TIF) program. At that time, the possibility of asking voters to support an additional sales tax was raised.
In July, Circuit Judge Neal Quitno made a final ruling on the TIF lawsuit that favored the City of Monett and ordered the Barry County E-911 Board to pay Monett the $262,090.17 it has set aside in escrowed funds. In response, the E-911 Board, as well as the Barry and Lawrence county commissions, filed an appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeals.
In the interim between the May meeting to discuss the center's financial issues and last week's meeting to consider pursuing the sales tax, E-911 Director Mike Phillips attended a meeting of the Barry County Fire Chiefs Association and talked to them about a possible sales tax increase.
"They offered their full support of this board, and they understood the position we're in," said Phillips. "They want to get behind us and help out."
Horner said he had also talked to several area fire chiefs and found them supportive of the addtional sales tax.
"They felt like we were not properly funded from the get go, and this is more realistic of what we really need (to operate)," said Horner.
In making a motion to place the sales tax proposal on the November ballot, board member Richard Asbill said the board had done everything it could to significantly reduce the budget without jeopardizing service to Barry County citizens.
"I still think we provide a very good service to all the citizens of Barry County, and we need to do everything we can to continue offering this service," said Asbill. "And we need community support."
"People don't like to pay taxes, but it's just a necessary evil if they want the service," added board member David Dalton.
The motion received unanimous support from board members Horner, Asbill, Harold Schelin, Leonard Witt, Dalton and Mick Epperly. Mike Redshaw was absent from the meeting.
The board asked attorney David Cole to craft official ballot language for the board's approval.
After voting in favor of the sales tax proposal, the board discussed a revenue sharing proposal submitted by the City of Monett.
Horner reported to the board that he had received a letter from Dennis Pyle, Monett city administrator, dated July 13.
In the letter, Pyle reminded the Barry County E-911 Board that Monett continued to operate its own E-911 dispatch center that provides emergency dispatch service within the city limits of Monett in Barry County. When the Barry County E-911 Center became operational, the city discontinued its collection of phone tariff revenues from customers in the Barry County portion of Monett, which resulted in a loss of approximately $60,000 a year in revenue.
"We would request that if the Barry County E-911 Board and the Barry County commissioners authorize an election to increase the county-wide emergency services tax that the appropriate language be inserted that would provide for a portion of the sales tax proceeds to be shared with the City of Monett for the staffing, operations and improvements to its E-911 system," Pyle wrote.
The city proposed that the percentage of the tax earmarked for Monett compensate the city for revenue lost from the discontinuation of its phone tariff within Barry County.
The letter also stated that if the Barry County Emergency Services Board would agree to the inclusion of a revenue-sharing statement within the ballot language, the city would "vigorously support" the ballot issue.
"I think to put that language on the ballot coming up would be counterproductive to our overall effort," said Schelin, "and as we're appealing the results of the lawsuit, it would be premature to put that language on the ballot. From a legal standpoint, we should say respectfully 'no, we can't do this.'"
"Ours is a Barry County 911 system," added Asbill. "We don't represent individual towns, and we shouldn't pay money to support an individual town."
Epperly raised concerns about giving money generated in Barry County to support dispatching for Pierce City and Freistatt and portions of Monett, which are located in Lawrence County and served by the Monett E-911 Center.
"We can't do that," said Phillips. "It would be a misuse of taxpayers' money."
No action was taken on the letter, and the board directed Horner to relay the consensus of the board to Pyle that "the proposal was not in the best interests of the district at this time."
"This is essentially the same request we've debated several times with them and turned down in March of 2008," said Asbill.