The members of Pike County 911 Advisory Panel left this month’s meeting hoping that they would soon be able to retain the legal services of Frank Foster, an attorney who specializes in 911-related legal matters in Missouri.

According to the discussions at the September 14 meeting of the Pike County 911 Advisory Panel, the group hopes that Foster will be able to provide them with a path forward regarding a possible sales tax. The revenue from the tax would be directed exclusively to financing a centralized 911 dispatch center.

“It is something that we are just exploring right now,” Sarah Cunningham said in an interview after the meeting. “We have been told for so long that we couldn’t have a sales tax for centralized dispatch, but now we are being told we can.”

According to officials with the advisory panel, their hope is that the attorney will give them the legal clearance to ask voters to repeal the county’s current 911 tax which is only applied towards land line telephones. If voters repeal the measure that was passed in the mid-1990s, then the panel hopes the citizens would enact a new general sales tax.

The next deadline for getting the potential sales tax on the ballot is January 23, 2018, according to Pike County Clerk Melissa Kempke.

A general half-cent sales tax in Pike County would raise an estimated $800,000, according to Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte.

Should voters approve a general sales tax dedicated to funding 911 service in Pike County, then the advisory panel would morph into an elected body similar to the Pike County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees or the Pike County Health Department Board of Trustees.

The initial board of trustees would be appointed by the Pike County Commissioners.

According to the comments of many members of the 911 advisory panel, their long range plan is to construct a politically independent 911 dispatch center that is in a standalone facility.

To finance such a facility, advisory panels say they will need more money than what the current 911 tax is forecasted to raise in the coming years.

“Due to the inability of being able to tax cell phones, and the decline in the land line telephones, we have lost a lot of revenue,” Larry Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp represents the Pike County Fire Chiefs Association and the Clarksville Volunteer Fire Department on the 911 Advisory Panel. He also serves as the panel’s chairperson.

The members of the advisory panel also heard reports of recent tours of the Marion County and Audrain County 911 dispatch centers. Both dispatch centers are funded through a sales tax and received high praise from members of the local county 911 advisory panel who toured the facilities.

“It shows you what a sales tax can do,” Justin Sheppard said. Sheppard, the county’s Eastern District Commissioner, serves on the 911 Advisory Panel. “It is not always the most popular thing to talk about, but a sales tax could do a lot for a centralized 911 dispatch center. The dispatch centers around us are all primarily funded by a sales tax and they are all nice buildings with adequate personnel. The sales tax makes it possible for one place to dispatch everything.”

According to those who toured the Marion County facility, the dispatch center handles all emergency calls for 16 agencies in Marion County. The only agency not dispatched directly from the 911 dispatch center is the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

The dispatch center is staffed by three full-time dispatchers at all times. Due to the high levels of sales tax revenues in Marion County, the center has been able to purchase the state-of-the-art equipment, which allows them to receive 911 text messages.

“Marion County spent almost $2.2 million on just the building,” Tylie Mills said. Mills is one of the representatives of the county’s hospital on the 911 advisory panel. “It is a great space, but it is not what we need.

According to those who toured the Audrain County dispatch center, the building is perhaps more aligned with what Pike County may one day build. The facility is 5,500 square feet and cost approximately $1 million to construct and equip. The facility is funded by a 3/8 of a cent sales tax, but officials with the Audrain County dispatch center hope to one day ask voters to make that a half-cent sales tax.

The Audrain County dispatch center currently only has two dispatchers on duty at all times, and they dispatch all emergency services for 13 municipalities without a charge to the municipality.

According to Pike County’s 911 Coordinator, Sarah Cunningham, a delegation from the 911 advisory panel in Pike County will soon be taking tours of two additional facilities.

Bowling Green Times