NEOSHO, Mo. — Newton County voters on April 7 will consider passing a half-cent sales tax to benefit 911 services, and Neosho voters will consider an additional half-cent sales tax to fund its police and fire departments.
With a unanimous vote, the Neosho City Council on Monday met in special session and passed its measure, which is hoped to generate almost $1.3 million annually. The money would be split equally between an operations fund that would address staffing and salaries and a capital improvement fund that would be used for purchasing equipment.
The ballot language is expected to be approved during the council's next regular meeting. The deadline for submitting issues for the April 7 election is Jan. 28.
Mayor Bill Doubek said the city has been wanting to place such a sales tax measure on the ballot since last year. The city has been working to increase staff levels since 2010, when a recession and financial problems led to layoffs.
"It's been a struggle. We are slowly rebuilding both fire and police departments, but we still have shortages," Doubek said. "We lose people to other departments that can pay more."
The measure was passed in anticipation of the county's measure.
Newton County Presiding Commissioner Bill Reiboldt said that the county will file its own ballot measure asking for a half-cent sales tax to fund public safety efforts. The bulk of that revenue would go toward 911 services and the Central Dispatch Center of Newton County.
"The last time the county asked for anything was in '91. We don't ask unless there is a need," Reiboldt said. "911 service is very expensive. While we do get dispatch fees (from the county's municipalities), it's not enough."
The dispatch center's fees are based this year on a per-call price of $6.38, according to paperwork considered by the city of Neosho when approving this year's contract. It handles 911 dispatching for the county's 10 fire departments, five police departments, sheriff's office, juvenile office and other entities.
According to figures presented by City Manager David Kennedy during the meeting, the county proposed to eliminate fees that municipalities pay the dispatch center, and to split revenues of the sales tax between several areas:
• 45% to the county's dispatch center.
• 20% to the sheriff's department.
• 10% to reserves.
• 13% to capital purchases.
• The remaining 12% would be divided between the cities of Neosho, Seneca, Granby and Diamond for their public safety needs.
Reiboldt confirmed that split, but also said Neosho's decision has led to the commission working on revising those numbers.
The county sales tax is hoped to generate about $3.6 million. Kennedy said the city of Neosho could receive an estimated $302,400, as well as another $114,000 that the city would not have to pay in dispatch services.
But Doubek said that amount is not enough. According to city department heads, the police department is short four patrolling officers and the fire department is short an assistant chief, a secretary, a training officer and seven paid-per-call, part-time firefighters when compared to 10 years ago.
"What we've been presented with, while it might help, does not meet our needs," Doubek said. "I know the sheriff has the same needs, as well as dispatch. We're all at a point where we need to make up for years where we didn't have a good economy."
Reiboldt said the county had hoped for the city to be on board with the county's proposal.
"I think everyone agrees that 911 is important, and with landline usage going down, it's important to keep it funded," Reiboldt said. "We tried to work together on this, but they will move forward, and we will move forward."