The inaugural board of directors for Texas County’s new 911 system is set.

Members of the Texas County Emergency Services board were sworn in last Wednesday by the county commission, and had their first meeting that afternoon. Based on state requirements following county voters’ April approval of a retail sales tax to fund a new 911 system, the commission appointed a seven-person board consisting of representatives of law enforcement, firefighting, ambulance service, municipalities and the general public They will oversee implementation of the system and administration of funds from a three-eighths of a cent sales tax, which likely begins in October.

The launching of the Texas County Emergency Services system resulted from Wright County’s decision to pull out of an agreement reached with Texas County in the mid-1990s to share funding and operation of a 911 system, which has since operated under the name Wri-Tex 911. Now that Wri-Tex 911 is soon to be a memory, Presiding Commissioner Fred Stenger and Associate Commissioners Linda Garrett and John Casey have completed an approximately two-month process to assemble the new board, and out of 21 names on their original list of candidates have appointed Bill Bridges (Houston), Wes Ellison (Willow Springs), Carol Ann Freeman (Cabool), Scott Lindsey (Licking), Jim McNiell (Houston), James Sigman (Cabool) and Kent Sturgeon (Licking).

Freeman helped found Wri-Tex 911 and was its director until her retirement in 2006. She was chosen to be the first chairperson for the new board and will serve a four-year term. Bridges and Sigman will also serve four-year terms, while Ellison, Lindsey, McNiell and Sturgeon will serve two years.

Ellison is the board’s vice chairperson and McNiell is secretary and treasurer.

As Texas County sheriff, Sigman was named as the law enforcement representative. Sturgeon is Licking Rural Fire Department Board president and was chosen as the firefighting representative, Bridges is Texas County Memorial Hospital emergency services director and was selected as the ambulance representative and Lindsey is Licking city administrator and police chief was named as the municipality representative. Ellison (a Willow Springs police officer and Pierce Township board member), McNiell (Houston’s police chief) and Freeman were selected as qualified county citizens.

All board members will have votes when issues are decided, and after inaugural members’ terms are up, subsequent members will be chosen by county voters. The newly formed board will meet multiple times a month at the outset, and plans are in place for visits to 911 centers in Phelps and Howell counties to gain knowledge and insight about procedures there.

Garrett said the board has entered into an intergovernmental contractual agreement to fund the new 911 system until tax monies start coming in early next year.

“We’re hopeful the tax will start in October,” Stenger said. “But none of that money will be available until 2015.”

Freeman said she believes the commission did made good choices in forming the first Texas County Emergency Services board.

“We have a great group,” she said. “The commission put a lot of thought into who they appointed.”

The board will now begin sorting through all the details involved in setting up the new system.

“There’s a lot to take into consideration,” Freeman said.

The board is expected to meet again June 21, and a decision could be made at that time to move the 911 call center from its current location on the Texas County Memorial Hospital campus to the old jail space downstairs in what is now the county administrative building on Grand Avenue in Houston. Another issue the board will quickly address is upgrading the 911 system’s outdated equipment with new, more efficient gear.

After originally setting the end date for Wri-Tex 911 as June 5, Wright County asked for an extension until July 15. But Stenger said the county has yet to procure necessary equipment for beginning its own call center, and the gear likely won’t be in place by the July date. That could result in Wright County officials requesting an intergovernmental agreement with the new Texas County board allowing another extension use of the existing equipment, in effect continuing the Wri-Tex 911 operation until they’re ready to go on their own.

Garrett said Texas County residents should be aware that the 911 surcharge will still appear on landline bills for a period of time (possibly several months) after the sales tax begins in October.

“State statute dictates it has to be on there for a while,” she said.

While Texas County already has a functional 911 system in place, Freeman said the transition to the new set-up is reminiscent of starting from scratch.

“Technology is very different than it was back in 1995 and it will be a whole new experience,” she said. “It’s a new ball game, but with the help of the commissioners, we’ll figure out what needs to be done.”

It’s a new ball game, but with the help of the commissioners, we’ll figure out what needs to be done.”

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