911 upgrade relies on higher sales tax [Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)]
(Columbia Daily Tribune (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Those promoting an April sales tax proposal to fund 911 and emergency management services recognize they might be battling voter fatigue when it comes to tax hike requests.
Voters recently have been asked to support growth through bonds and property taxes, particularly for Columbia Public Schools, which has plans to request more funding. But supporters say 911 and emergency management can barely conduct basic public safety services under current funding, making a new sales tax to fund the services a necessity.
PHOTO: Paying the Price: The following sales tax rates... more [+]
"I've voted for ballot measures that didn't do what they were supposed to, and now they're asking for more money. I get it," Sheriff Dwayne Carey said of potential hesitance from voters.
If Proposition 1 is approved April 2, the additional three- eighths-cent sales tax will be collected starting in October. That will raise Columbia's rate to 7.975 percent, a rate that also includes a new Boone County Children's Fund sales tax approved in November. Collection will begin in April for that quarter-cent sales tax.
The permanent tax measure would transfer 911 and emergency management services from the city of Columbia to county government and support an annual cost of $8.66 million. The new money would more than double 911 and emergency management's current funding.
The sales tax also would fund construction of a new $11.3 million EF-5 tornado-ready facility, the purchase of $8.65 million in new radio equipment, hardware and software and nearly double personnel.
A quarter-cent tax would have collected an estimated $6.2 million annually, which is below the $8.6 million in annual cost to operate, so the proposal was set at three-eighths of a cent. That amount would collect an estimated $9.3 million annually.
Representatives of the 13 agencies that use and fund 911 services recognized the potential for voter fatigue as early as last summer. The committee that operates 911 and emergency management services first intended to put the 911 sales tax on the November ballot. Complications stalled that, and there also was a desire to avoid competing with the children's fund tax already going before voters in that election.
"We don't want to compete for money with kids," Carey said then.
If the 911 tax passes, Centralia and Sturgeon will join Columbia at a rate of 7.975 percent, the highest in Boone County. The rate in unincorporated areas of Boone County will remain at 5.975 percent. Those rates do not account for special taxing districts.
Carey said it's difficult to comprehend what 911 and emergency management services provide because everyone uses them. The possibility of waiting 60 seconds for 911 to answer a call reporting a burglar is frightening, he said, and he calls Boone County "nowhere near capable of handling a Joplin-type tornado."
"If you can picture yourself as a caller or victim, do you want an answering machine " Carey said. "This is not like reporting your DirecTV is out."
Grass Roots Organizing, or GRO, announced its opposition Friday to the tax, citing fairness.
"Everything is going up in price, and adding more sales tax will only make it harder for me to survive," GRO board member Robert Jackson said. "When the city and county need more money, they just seem to only ask for increased sales taxes, and sales taxes already are too high. I hope that Columbians and Boone County voters will understand that this just isn't fair."
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill said the only way to improve 911 and emergency management services is to create new funding the county and city cannot provide.
If the tax is defeated, residents will continue with inadequate staffing levels, facilities and response times, he said.
"I wish there was a different way to fund this," Atwill said. "But I looked, and I can't find a better way."
He said he thinks the tax is fair because some of the money will come from tourists and shoppers visiting from other communities. Tourism in Columbia alone earns $9 million annually, and that's not counting those from Boonville, Moberly, Fulton and other parts of Mid-Missouri who frequent Columbia businesses.
"We will have people outside the county contributing to the tax," Atwill said. "That is fair because visitors from outside often require services from the 911 center and emergency management center we otherwise have provided for free."
Rates for Columbia, Centralia and Sturgeon will equal the same as 46 other Missouri communities if the sales tax is approved, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue. About 155 other communities have a sales tax higher than Columbia's proposed rate of 7.975 percent. The state's highest sales tax rate is 8.975 percent.
The 911 tax would collect the largest portion of its funding from general merchandise purchased at retail stores, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Nearly $439 million in 2011 was spent in Boone County on general merchandise -- not including at grocery stores -- which was well above the $279 million spent at eating and drinking establishments, the next-largest spending category.
[copyright] 2013 Columbia Daily Tribune . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
(c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]