The combining of the county and city’s 911 emergency dispatch centers has long been studied and proposed as a way to save lives and money. The quirks of the current system were so illogical, it’s hard to believe it has been over 30 years since this feat was first proposed and acted on. Depending on where the emergency call came in, it could take three or more call transfers before the actual dispatch of any emergency personnel might be received. The weirdness of this situation became even more complex with the diversity of cell phone companies and towers. This all equaled minutes that were life-saving seconds for the right team to make it to the scene. Kinda makes me shudder.
Finally this year, the turf wars that seemed so relevant and necessary decades before have ended. The law enforcement entities began to see eye-to-eye on the processes and more importantly the benefits of a combined dispatch unit that could handle all the emergency calls from any part of the county; whether the call came in from the Maryville’s city limits or in Wilcox, east of Guilford or south of Elmo. One dispatcher, highly trained and hopefully equally-highly compensated and who would stay with the job, could send out the appropriate emergency personnel. No matter whether the situation warranted an ambulance, sheriff’s deputy, public safety officer, firefighters and/or rescue squads, the call would be handled by one dispatcher and not passed around from one agency to the next. Minutes save lives and this new maneuver will do just that.
This week, the commitment came to life when the Maryville City Council agreed to step forward and purchase the equipment necessary for the dispatch center to deliver. No small feat, as the total was over half a million dollars. Nodaway County will pick up half of this with their new FY2020 budget. The beauty of this arrangement is the ability, due to good stewardship and the realization of the importance and gravity of the situation, to not ask the county’s citizens for an additional tax, at least not now.
The Nodaway County Commissioners were apprehensive about beginning this joint venture knowing the bottom line was not a break-even one. Both the city and county have seen red ink on the 911 service for years with the declining revenue of landline telephone taxes. Monies have long come from the general revenue pot to subsidize the dispatch centers. They were not alone as other counties and cities are in the same sinking boat. The question is what is the best way to garner monies to pay for this service?
County commissioners talked to Henry County commissioners, who have combined Chillicothe city dispatch with the county dispatch. They paid for theirs with a one-half cent sales tax, which in Nodaway County would generate nearly $1 million annually. That would be more than comfortable. Maryville leaders were reluctant to add to the sales tax of products purchased in the county.
Another way to raise dollars that has reared its head on the state level is to tax mobile devices, including cellphones and other items. The state, however, dictates the user tax amount, which is not enough to fully fund the dispatching services. So until the state legislature and governor loosen their grips, this alternative was not suitable to the county commissioners.
So the compromise that the two local groups settled on was time. The agreement that was signed December 12 by commissioners and December 16 by the city council is for two years after the joint dispatching center begins. It is my hope there will be dollar efficiencies to the extent that no additional taxes will be needed.
But that is for another day. Today let us be happy and thankful for our leaders who persevered, beat back the naysayers, and found the wisdom to say “yes.”