Ray County asking residents to approve 1-cent sales tax increase to keep 911 services

RAY COUNTY, Mo. — Ray County's 911 services could be gone in less than two years if voters don’t act, according to some county leaders.

“We have enough funding to last another two years, maybe less,” said Justin Meier, Richmond city councilman and chairman of Citizens for Ray County 911.

Ray County 911 currently has an operating budget of about $640,000. That money comes from each of the municipalities in the county as well as a landline tax, but Meier said fewer people own landlines.

“In 10 years, we’ve lost over half of the landlines in the county, so that means less tax money,” Meier said.

Dispatch needs the funding to update their radios, towers, operating and tracking systems, as well as possibly giving dispatchers a raise, he said.

County commissioners and the Ray County 911 Board have introduced a one-cent sales tax to help with funding the emergency service.

“The estimation is that that tax will bring in $1 million to $1.5 million, which is a hefty sum compared to what we are working with now,” Meier said.

The cost per household would be based on spending habits. For example, if someone spends $500 at the store, they will pay a $5 tax.

If approved, the landline tax would be terminated. If voters decide not to pass the measure, each municipality would need to find its own 911 service or those services could be outsourced, according to Meier.

“That will lead to horrible response times,” Meier said. “It will cost insurance rates to go up in the county for both individuals and businesses and, instead of someone picking up a phone and dialing 911, they would have to look up the phone number.”

Leah Ray is one of 12 dispatchers who work at Ray County 911. They answer hundreds of call every week.

“It’s never easy to hear someone on the other line while they’re experiencing the worst thing they ever have happened to them,” Ray said.

For Ray and her colleagues, a lack of funding not only means uncertainty for their jobs, but she also worries about how this will effect the people they know and serve.

“If we can’t operate anymore, what’s it going to mean for our community?” Ray asked. “It’s terrifying to know that there’s a possibility that we might lose this.”

There are currently 20 counties in Missouri that don't have 911 services, according to data from the Missouri 911 Directors Association. Meier said he doesn’t want Ray County to become 21.

“We want to be a county that is growing, that welcomes business and tourism," Meier said. “If we aren’t a county that has 911, we will not welcome those things.”

The measure will be up for a vote on April 3 in Ray County.