Next Tuesday, area voters are being asked to support an eighth of a cent sales tax to ensure continued operations of the Barry County E-911 Center. According to information provided by the E-911 Board, the additional sales tax will provide enough revenue to operate the center, which is facing closure without additional sales tax support. The threat is not an idle one, and Barry County will be moving backwards if E-911 service ceases.
I remember back in 2005 when the first sales tax was placed on the ballot. It was shocking at that time to realize Barry County was one of only a handful of counties in the state that did not have 911 service. It's never good to be among the bottom tier, especially when it comes to providing such a vital service to citizens. At that time, county voters responded and approved a quarter of a cent sales tax that allowed for the construction and equipping of a new state-of-the-art E-911 center for Barry County.
The sales tax was also supposed to support ongoing operations at the center, but due to a depressed economy and other unforeseen expenses, tax revenue is no longer providing the money needed to operate the center. The E-911 has already made significant cuts and shaved expenses, but according to E-911 officials, there is only enough money left to operate the center through the end of the year. If additional funding is not approved by voters, the E-911 Board has plans to close the center and possibly declare bankruptcy.
In our opinion, the one-eighth of a cent sales tax is necessary and vitally important to the citizens of Barry County as well as area fire departments and other emergency responders. If the E-911 Center closes, the Barry County Sheriff's Department would be forced to take over dispatching. The cost of those services would have to be absorbed by the county, and public safety would be adversely affected as more cuts would have to be made to an already bare-bones department. In addition, cities would have to use their tax revenue to pay for dispatching service, which would further stress tight budgets and could result in reduced services to city residents. In addition, response times for all emergencies would increase if the E-911 Center closed down, and when minutes count, this becomes a life and death decision for county voters.
We urge county voters to support the E-911 issue on Tuesday's ballot. The cost to individual residents will be minimal, and because this is a sales tax issue, the expense of the center will be shared by tourists and others shopping in the county who could potentially use the emergency service. It's a fair tax and an important service that deserves the continued support of county voters. Vote "yes" on Feb. 7.