The Columbia Police Officers' Association endorsed a sales tax proposal at a public forum held by Keep Columbia Safe on Monday night.
The sales tax, also known as the Joint Communications 911 Initiative, will appear as Proposition #1 on the April 2 ballot. It would impose a new 3/8 cent county-wide sales tax for funding a county-wide joint communications and dispatch center and for the funding of emergency management services.
Proposition #1 would fund updates for the Boone County Public Service Joint Communications Task Force call center and emergency management services. These upgrades would include adding staff members to meet current demand, information technology, equipment upgrades and constructing a new Joint Communications/911 Dispatch Center and Emergency Management Center in one location.
More than 50 Missouri counties already have 911 sales taxes in place.
"We believe the proposed tax is necessary," said Karen Taylor, the board president of Keep Columbia Safe, in a news release. "It will allow public safety officials to hire personnel to adequately staff the 911 call center and improve facilities and technologies that will enhance emergency response for all Boone County residents."
Joint Communications/911 and Emergency Management answer all 911 and non-emergency calls in Boone County, provide direct support to 13 law enforcement, fire and EMS response agencies, provide outdoor warning sirens and other emergency notification tools, and provide coordination of responses and ensuring necessary public services are provided when catastrophic events occur.
According to a Columbia Police Officers' Association news release, there is only one 911 call-taker on duty at any given time to assist with emergency response to the citizens of Columbia and Boone County under current staffing and funding levels.
Joint Communications would begin hiring employees to fill four new operator positions immediately after the ballot passes, according to the news release, and would eventually increase hiring with up to 20 additional full-time positions.
According to a report from the 911/Emergency Management Advisory Board was filed in January 2013, Joint Communications has not kept pace with the demand created by Boone County's growth. Population growth and the increased use of cellphones has resulted in significantly greater call volume, according to the report, which overwhelms call takers and may result in delayed response, disconnects and other problems. Information technology and telecommunication equipment are also outdated.
According to the report, Emergency Management Operations Center's facility, located in the old armory, appears to lack the capacity to serve the community in a severe natural or man-made disaster or other critical emergency. According to the report, the building is not rated to withstand a major storm event.
Mark Flakne, president of Keep Columbia Free, opposes the 911 sales tax.
"The tax is a terrible idea," Flakne said. "They want to build a $11.3 million fortress and triple the budget. These government rubes have squandered our tax dollars on silly pet projects instead of this basic service. I don't want to bail them out. They need to adjust their spending priorities."