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Problems Continue at 911 Center

The 911 call center serving Columbia and Boone County is understaffed, underfunded and under-prepared for an emergency. Now Boone County leaders have taken the initiative to solve the problem. They have created a blue ribbon panel to discuss possible funding solutions for Joint Communications. The panel met at the Boone County government Center Thursday night, where they narrowed their options down to two: a general sales tax, or a statute. “At the end of the day, it’s a crisis situation, and we’ve got to fix it,” Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey said Thursday. If the tax is a general sales tax, Joint Communications falls under the County’s jurisdiction. If it is a statute, it will fall under its own subdivision — running itself. Sheriff Carey says, under a sales tax, the county could access funds to fix the center’s problems sooner. “We’ve got our hiring process started because it’s out of the county… the county can fund it,” Carey said, “they can borrow money and we can get positions filled.” It would take longer to access the money if it comes from a statute. Carey added, “you have to have financial history to borrow money, so a separate political subdivision is going to establish a financial history.” But operators with the 911 center prefer the statute option, because the city of Columbia would not be able to impact their operations. Stacy Swan works at the Joint Communications and said, “we’ve been under the city for so long, and promised so much stuff over the years that they haven’t been able to keep their end of the bargain, so they’ve been burned so many times.” Another employee says the relationship with the city has created low morale. Swan said, “it’s a tug of war. People are really unhappy there at this point, and we’re losing good people… people we should not be losing.” Former Emergency Management Director, Zim Schwartze was on hand at Thursday night’s meeting to offer insight to how Joint Communications and the 911 center operate. She says either tax option will fix staffing and other issues, but they will not fix the relationship with the city. “You have to have cooperation, and that’s a lot of what we did not get,” she said. The panel will have a final recommendation for which tax to use for the Boone County Commission by December 13.

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