When Texas County voters on April 8 approved a 3/8-cent retail sales tax to fund a new single-county 911 central dispatch system, that was just the first in a series of steps leading up to the implementation of the levy and accompanying end to a surcharge on landline telephone bills.
“The work has only begun,” Presiding Commissioner Fred Stenger said. “There’s a lot left to do to make this happen.”
The sales tax vote and subsequent changes on Texas County’s 911 horizon resulted from Wright County’s decision to pull out of an agreement reached in the early 1990s that formed a partnership between the two neighboring counties for funding and operating a 911 center. Now that Wri-Tex 911 is in its final stages of existence, Stenger and Associate Commissioners Linda Garrett and John Casey are beginning the transition process by finding people to fill seven positions on a volunteer board of directors who will oversee operation of the new 911 system and administration of funds collected via the sales tax.
Initial board members will be selected from a pool of men and women experienced in law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighting and other fields related to emergency response and service. A state statute requires board members to be appointed “immediately upon the affirmative vote.”
“We’re working on that now,” Stenger said. “The initial board is crucial.”
The inaugural board will consist of three members from each of Texas County’s two commission districts and an “at large” chairperson. Future board members will be elected by county voters (and will not need any specific previous experience), with chairpersons serving four-year terms and others serving two years.
Voting for non-chair board members will be staggered so three seats are contested every two years. That means the first group of non-chair members will include three who serve four years to create the stagger.
Texas County Clerk Don Troutman, who was instrumental in the formation of Wri-Tex 911, said the sales tax will start at the beginning of a quarter later this year, and should be in effect by either July or October. Getting it going requires meeting requirements set forth by the Missouri Department of Revenue and helping prepare county merchants for the changeover.
Troutman said the 911 landline surcharge will continue to show up on Texas County citizens’ phone bills for about 90 days to six months after the sales tax goes into effect.
“There will be a period of overlap,” he said. “If you still see the charge for a while, it’s not a mistake and there’s no need to call us or the phone company.”
Once the new 911 funding system is in effect, the board will immediately begin considering improvements such as updating the call center on the Texas County Memorial Hospital Campus and upgrading its outdated equipment.
“Lord knows the equipment is worn out in there,” Stenger said. “We’re behind times.”
Future board considerations may include moving the center to a new location.
Along with Wright County’s decision to leave, Wri-Tex 911 has for several years dealt with the issue of declining revenue caused by a significant drop in landline usage. New funding through the sales tax will alleviate that burden.
The commissioners want Texas County citizens to be aware that some time will be taken to properly, safely and legally figure out some aspects of the transition, including:
•Determining where phone lines leave Texas County and enter neighboring counties – it’s crucial to knowing who does and doesn’t continue paying a landline surcharge.
•Sorting out how to maintain adequate fire protection with regard to “mutual aid” agreements between departments inside and outside Texas County.
“Some departments in Texas County automatically respond to calls in Wright County and some in Wright County respond to calls in Texas County,” Troutman said. “We need to make sure service isn’t disrupted for the people in those areas.”
•Proper legal documentation regarding “dividing up” emergency communication equipment previously shared by Texas and Wright counties.
“We’re sharing radio frequencies now and you don’t want overlapping transmission going on,” Casey said.
Stenger said all legal aspects of the separation with Wright County will be scrutinized before anything is final.
“We need to get everything lined up so we’re not responsible if they mess up and they won’t be responsible if we mess up,” he said. “It’s a two-way street.”
Troutman and the three commission members stress that the wheels are turning, but there’s no quick-fix to the process.
“There are a lot of things you have to consider so that when one switch is turned off and another is turned on, you’ve done enough to be ready,” Troutman said. “Hopefully it will be a smooth and easy transition, but it needs to be a thorough transition.”
“Based on the important nature of what we’re dealing with here, we have to get this right,” Stenger said. “Emergency dispatch service is no small matter.”
Questions can be directed to the Texas County Commission by calling 417-967-3222.
Based on the important nature of what we’re dealing with here, we have to get this right. Emergency dispatch service is no small matter.”