By Lindsay Reed
On Tuesday, Barry County voters will go to the polls to decide a one-eighth of a cent sales tax to support county emergency services.
Jon Horner, Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Board chairman, has indicated that Barry County E-911 only has enough cash to operate until December of this year.
The one-eighth of a cent emergency services sales tax has been projected to generate $425,000 to $450,000 a year, which would give the emergency services board an annual budget of around $1.3 million to operate the county E-911 center.
"From our perspective at the sheriff's office, 911 is something we need to keep," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, who is also a member of the Barry County E-911 Emergency Services Board.
County voters approved a one-quarter of a cent sales tax to establish of the county E-911 system in 2005. According to Epperly, at that time, only three or four other counties in the state were operating without 911.
"We were able to have all of our roads mapped since 911 came in," said Epperly. "This has increased response times for all emergency services."
Prior to the establishment of the county-wide E-911 system, dispatching was conducted by the Barry County Sheriff's office at the county jail. Unlike current E-911 dispatchers, the sheriff's office dispatchers did not receive medical training.
"We offered dispatching with the funding we had available," said Epperly. "It was definitely an important service, but it was no 911 system and it was never going to be. The 911 dispatchers are trained to assist people who are having heart attacks, seizures or in labor during pregnancy."
County operators who dispatched services through the sheriff's department were required to collect addresses and directions for responders. Today, in addition to locating addresses on the E-911 mapping systems, dispatchers can determine the location of a caller who dials 911 from a cell phone.
"I know you know where you live and you know your address, but when you are dealing with an emergency, it is easy to forget," said Epperly. "These dispatchers can see where you are when the call comes in and are trained to keep you on the line. They are trained to calm down those who are panicking."
Currently, the Barry County E-911 operations center employs nine dispatchers and a dispatching operations manager, who also serves as a full-time dispatcher. In addition to Phillips, the administrative office employs two part-time employees.