Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

November 18, 2013

Tax support for 911 a priority

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat — The connection between a Garvin County sales tax likely up for renewal next year and the funding support for a 911 center has the definite interest of some.

One with a close eye on it is county Sheriff Larry Rhodes, who oversees a county-wide emergency 911 dispatch center.

Rhodes is hoping a small part of a half-cent county tax, if approved for renewal by voters during an election expected next spring, could be earmarked for the 911 center.

Although that might not happen in the end, one county commissioner and member of a sales tax committee is making it clear tax funding to support the center is a top priority.

The sheriff offered up a few of his thoughts this week to a committee established to look closer at the possible future of the half-cent tax set to expire next summer.

What Rhodes was looking for from the committee was to see either funding set aside or assurances the county 911 center would get the financial support it needs to thrive well into the future.

The way to provide that commitment to support the ongoing operation of the county dispatch center is to earmark part of the tax revenue for 911, he said.

“Let’s have good projections of what we’re going to need over there and put that on the ballot,” Rhodes said. “That’s just my take on it.”

The seven-year half-cent county sales tax was approved by voters back in 2007 to address three main areas — improvements to the county courthouse, the operation of the sheriff’s office and county jail and county roads.

With the tax set to expire next June, all three county commissioners plan to take it back before voters with a few changes.

There would be no changes with a quarter of the tax going for the operation and maintenance of the sheriff’s office and county jail and another one-fourth being used for the maintenance of the county’s highway system.

The half now going toward the courthouse upgrades would instead be placed in the county’s general budget and used for a variety of purposes, such as support for the 911 center.

That funding would ultimately be distributed by the county’s Excise Board.

The sheriff says potential changes in telephone fees collected could benefit the center but more is needed to keep the 911’s equipment and technology updated over time.

The big area of concern for the center is the high level of employee turnover as better salaries and benefits for 911 dispatchers is needed in a big way.

“I want to start keeping the people that we need to keep,” Rhodes said.

“We’re just hanging on out there. We have got to have 911.”

District 3 county Commissioner Johnny Mann, who also serves on the tax committee, is offering a loud voice in supporting the 911 center without earmarking any tax revenue for that specific use.

“My priority is to fund 911,” Mann said.

“That’s our main concern I promise you.”

Mann also called it a “no-brainer” to place 50 percent of the tax revenue into the county’s general budget rather than earmark part of it only for the 911 center.

That way Mann and others believe there would be a better system of checks and balances for the funding and any adjustments, if needed, of the areas it will address over time, such as 911.

Along with disbursement of the tax revenue, committee members will also recommend the renewal of this half-cent tax on a permanent basis go before voters during an election on April 1, 2014.

The suggested date was chosen in part to avoid a lapse in the collection of tax revenue. The tax itself is scheduled to expire June 30, 2014 unless renewed by voters.