Boone County Pachyderm Club Holds Forum on 911 Sales Tax

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COLUMBIA - The Boone County Pachyderm Club hosted a heated public forum Tuesday night about the proposed 911 sales tax set for the April 2 ballot.

Club president Elizabeth Phillips said the club brought in people to voice both sides of the issue to urge members to decide their own stance on the issue. Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson spoke to the group aiming to educate them on the current situation of 911 and emergency management services and the changes the tax would make.

Those changes include hiring 20 additional full time call-takers. Currently there is only one dedicated call-taker for fourteen 9-1-1 lines and 27 non-emergency phone lines. Additional staff aims to help improve emergency call wait times in the current system. The National Fire Protection Association standards say centers should staff so 95 percent of all emergency calls are answered within 15 seconds. About 85 percent of calls in Boone County are currently answered within that time.

Thompson said the improvement of the facilitiies is vital to public safety in the county.

"We don't have adequate facilities, we don't have adequate technology, and we don't have enough people to staff the program," Thompson said. 

Joel Bullard, Ashland farmer and member of the blue ribbon panel, presented the committee's findings and recommended citizens to pass the tax. 

Steve Spellman, citizen advocate against the tax, also spoke making his case against the tax. He agreed with the other speakers that public safety and the current condition of the facilities were an issue that needed to be addressed, but said he feels the city needs to look at reallocating current funds before increasing tax rates for citizens. 

"They're buying parts on E-bay to keep things up that are 20 years old," Spellman said. "I don't see firetrucks on the side of the road that are broken down waiting for some brothers shade tree mechanic to fix it because they don't have a dollar for that. They should've allocated for a long time a little more of their budget to answer the phone at 911."

The 3/8-cent sales tax increase would add 37.5 cents to every $100 purchase. It would also raise Columbia's sales tax rate to about 7.9 percent and more than double 911 and emergency management funding.