County officials regroup after election

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A one-eighth of a cent sales tax designed to support county-wide 911 will come before voters again in the near future, but a 3/16th of a cent sales tax for county law enforcement will not be placed back on the ballot. Both issues were defeated by voters last Tuesday.

"We will meet to look at our options," said Jon Horner, Barry County E-911 Emergency Services chairman. "We believe we have enough cash to last until the end of 2012, but we know that we have to get the tax issue on the ballot again or we will be forced to cease operations.

"We came close, and we appreciate the support we got," said Horner. "Sometimes you have to put an issue before the voters more than once to get information on your need out there. We need people to know how desperate of a need we have."

The board will be looking at ways to cut expenses, but Horner said that much of the operation costs have been slashed.

"Operating as a 24-hour 911 center is the tricky thing," said Horner. "These dispatchers are making very important decisions and providing communication so we have to have the staff to properly respond to emergencies in order to save lives. There is only a certain point that you can cut to and preserve the quality of the center."

In the past, Horner had indicated that Barry County 911 could face bankruptcy due to a decrease in sales tax revenues and a costly lawsuit. At this time, bankruptcy is not an option for the operations center.

"The lawsuit is on appeal, and until it is decided we cannot take the bankruptcy option," said Horner. "Once it is decided, if it is against us and if we have not received the support needed for additional revenue, that will be the route we will have to take."

Horner said he does not know what bankruptcy would mean for Barry County E-911.

"Very few municipalities in the nation, let alone the state of Missouri, have filed bankruptcy," said Horner. "We do know that we cannot obtain any restructuring of our debt right now, and we have the potential of running out of cash in 13 months.

"Right now, no financial institution is interested in restructuring our debt, because there are a lot of tricky points with us," said Horner. "If we are forced to file bankruptcy, it could mean that the debt we owe to Monett could be wiped clean, or we might be asked to pay the debt out over a longer period of time."

Horner is also unsure of when Barry County E-911 will receive a ruling on its appeal. Traditionally, appeals take around one year to make their way through the court system, said Horner.

"It has been in their hands for two months," said Horner. "It is my understanding that this issue will automatically be moved to the state supreme court for a final ruling. I don't think we will know anything any earlier than a year and a half.

"That is why the election is so important," said Horner. "We don't have a year and a half supply of cash left. We only have enough cash to last us through 2012."

The Barry County Commission has no immediate plans to place its 3/16th of a cent sales tax before voters again. Instead, county officials will be looking for ways to cut expenses.

"We thought we did a good job of presenting the people with information on what would happen if it didn't pass," said Cherry Warren, presiding commissioner. "Now we will do the very best we can for the people with the money we have."

Warren said the commission would be forced to make cuts in order to pay for the two jury trials that are on the horizon. Some of those cuts could include reduction in staff at the sheriff's department and jail.

"We have to live within our means and that means we will need to cut some service to the people," said Warren. "We will see how we finish this year. We plan to take it easy until the end of the year and then see where we are at."

County officeholders will have a voice in budget cut discussions when the commission reviews the 2012 budget proposal, said Warren.

"All of the officeholders have been very cooperative and understanding of our situation," said Warren. "We don't like the position we are in, but we are trying to be understanding.

"We are not unhappy with the people," said Warren. "We are disappointed that the issue didn't pass, but we understand that times are tough for everyone right now."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: