Area residents are invited to tour the Barry County E-911 Operations Center, next to Barry Electric Cooperative's headquarters north of Cassville, during a series of open house events scheduled to be held at the facility this month. The first open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 6.
"The purpose of these events are to allow the public to see exactly what the 911 center is and what we have here," said Mike Phillips, Barry County E-911 director. "This is a public building, and I value giving the public an opportunity to come in and see it once or twice a year.
"We normally have our open house in April during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week," said Phillips. "We decided to bump it up this year due to the election that will be held Feb. 7."
In November of 2011, the Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Board voted to place a one-eighth of a cent sales tax designed to support county-wide 911 before voters for a second time during the Feb. 7 election. Nearly 53 percent of voters opposed the issue, which would increase the total E-911 tax to three-eighths, when it went before voters the first time on Nov. 8, 2011.
"We will have some information available during the open houses on why the sales tax increase is needed and what will happen if the issue doesn't pass," said Phillips. "We want the community to know what it will be losing, which is mostly technology."
Residents who attend the open house events are asked to gather in the lobby of the operations center. Phillips, E-911 dispatchers and board members will be available to give tours of the facility.
"They will have the opportunity to see all of the administrative offices, and then we will take them downstairs to the dispatching area," said Phillips. "There will be some limitations, due to privacy policies, but they will have the opportunity to see all of our technology, including the server, the dispatcher screens and other equipment."
Phillips estimated that tours will last around 15 to 20 minutes.
"I hope that people see first of all that their money has been spent on technology," said Phillips. "Our administrative offices are plain because we didn't spend tax dollars on frivolous things.
"They will see our servers, our radio equipment and our computer screens downstairs," said Phillips. "That is where the money was spent. Tax dollars were spent on what is essential, which is the dispatching equipment to provide the best service to the people of Barry County."
The E-911 operations center was completed by Dalton-Killinger Construction, of Joplin, in November of 2007. The building features a large reception area, a waiting room, administrative offices, a break room, a classroom, mapping administration offices, restrooms and a large dispatch room.
The facility was constructed with precast concrete slabs and engineered to withstand a EF5 tornado. In the event of any major disaster, the center is equiped to be used as a command center for all county emergency services.
"We want community members to know the whole situation," said Phillips. "We want them to see for themselves if it is worth voting yes on the sales tax increase issue. We also want them to know that if the sales tax issue doesn't pass, the county will not have 911 the way it has it today."
Jon Horner, Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Board chairman, has indicated that Barry County E-911 only has enough cash to operate until December of this year. The one-eighth of a cent emergency services sales tax has been projected to generate $425,000 to $450,000 a year, which would give the emergency services board an annual budget of around $1.3 million to operate the county E-911 center.
Several measures have already been taken to reduce operating expenses at the E-911 center. For instance, five positions have been eliminated and two full-time positions have been changed to part-time positions.
Currently, the Barry County E-911 operations center employs nine dispatchers and a dispatching operations manager, who also serves as a full-time dispatcher. In addition to Phillips, the administrative offices employ two part-time employees.
"I am truly worried for our community and county if the sales tax does not pass in February," said Phillips. "We are a rural area so it takes time for ambulances and paramedics to arrive at a scene. Our residents depend on first responders in emergencies and those responders depend on receiving accurate information in order to get to those who need help."
Open house events will be held at the Barry County E-911 Operations Center each Friday and Saturday throughout January. Events scheduled on Jan. 6, Jan. 13, Jan. 20 and Jan. 27 will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., and events scheduled on Jan. 7, Jan. 14, Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 will be held from 2 to 4 p.m.