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911 board discusses funding issues

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monett's 911 Advisory Board discussed efforts to conduct an audit of its database and the continuing debate with the Barry County 911 service over funding during the board's quarterly meeting.

Bonnie Witt Schulte, dispatching supervisor for Monett, showed the board a draft letter to be sent to AT&T about getting access to the database used for Monett's 911 service. Monett has been trying to have OnPoint audit the database to see if the charges are proper.

According to AT&T, much of Monett's database can be accessed from AT&T's website. At the recommendation of attorney Carl Blanchard, a letter was prepared asking for a copy of the full database, including the master street address guide. The letter specified Monett wanted the information for an OnPoint audit.

A letter from Jackie Barrett, a communications consultant with AT&T in Des Peres dated Dec. 1, 2011, stated AT&T was unable to provide a report that separates 911 revenue by class of service. Believing all the information requested is available, board members voted to send the letter, asking for the data by Jan. 23.

City Administrator Dennis Pyle said the city was prepared to file suit to get access to the database. The effort to review the database has gone on for nearly two years. OnPoint has asserted the database may include numbers no longer in use, other unjustified charges or omissions that need adjustment.

Board members discussed efforts by Barry County 911 to bring up another public vote on a county-wide sales tax for 911 service on Feb. 7. Pyle said the city has requested that 5 percent of revenues from the new tax go to Monett to make up for the loss of Monett's landline surcharge for rural service taken over by the county.

Pyle said Jon Horner, 911 board chairman, had accepted a Monett invitation for a meeting with city officials and 911 board members.

Board chairman Jack Schulz reminded the board that the last time a vote was held on offering Monett funds for its 911 system, the full county 911 board voted unanimously against it. Meetings with the county board have not given any serious consideration to Monett's proposal, or shown interest in living up to pre-election promises that the county service would not negatively affect Monett.

Pyle said that even though the county board has repeatedly said Monett should turn its 911 calls over to it, Barry County will not serve the Lawrence County portion of Monett, which represents 35 percent of the service area.

The consequence of Barry County's proposal would be to turn over the smaller portion to the Lawrence County system. Pyle asked if it was feasible to operate two 911 systems in the city with different levels of service.

Board members expressed an interest in finding some common ground with the Barry County 911 Board. The issue, they noted, had become confused with litigation over Monett's tax increment financing (TIF). Some circles liked opposing Monett "as a way to beat the giant in the north," said board member Paul Camp.

Pyle observed confusion exists over the Barry County 911 Board possibly filing for bankruptcy over a lack of funding. Rather than close the service, Pyle said a Chapter 9 bankruptcy would only result in creditors getting paid on the county board's schedule. According to Pyle, service could continue as usual.

Efforts to find another way to fund 911 service would again go before state lawmakers this year. Witt-Schulte said a 911 Day at the Capitol has been scheduled for Jan. 17.

The latest idea circulating would establish a 75-cent flat fee on any device that makes 911 calls. Witt-Schulte said the strategy would erase all land line surcharges, which has funded Monett's system from the outset.

Witt-Schulte expressed concern that new legislation would be worded to favor county systems and cut out municipal services. She planned to meet with representatives from Joplin, who have wrestled with with Jasper County on similar issues.

Recent meetings have been held with leaders of the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District, where a good working relationship has been established, Witt Schulte said. Meetings with fire chiefs and the 911 directors of both counties had to be rescheduled.

The next meeting of the 911 Advisory Board will be held on March 21.

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