A Jasper County 9-1-1 issue will appear on the Jasper County August 3rd ballot. The purpose of the ballot issue is to ask voters for additional funding through sales taxes collected in Jasper County to provide improvements to emergency services in Jasper County. The ballot language reads as such:
“Shall the Jasper County Emergency Services 9-1-1 Board through its Board of Directors be permitted to increase its current sales tax rate of one-tenth (1/10th) of one percent to a sales tax rate up to and not to exceed one quarter (1/4th) of one percent of taxable sales for infrastructure, a county-wide public safety radio system, and to ensure rapid dispatching of all 9-1-1 calls and non-emergency calls for service to law enforcement, emergency medical services, and fire protection?”
We interviewed April Ford, Executive Director of the Jasper County Emergency Services 9-1-1 Board. Quotes have been edited for clarity and conciseness:
Can you tell us a little bit of history and your experience with the Jasper County 9-1-1 Board?
April Ford: I’ve been with Jasper County Emergency Services for 11 years now. This is my home. I grew up in Jasper County. 9-1-1 dispatches for 26 different public safety agencies including fire, police, and medical. We are the only medical dispatch center in Jasper county dispatching two medical agencies.
Taking a bit of a deeper dive into the 9-1-1 centers. Tell us about how you work with the other organizations. For example, Joplin and Jasper county 9-1-1 are different departments or different agencies?
April Ford: The are different agencies altogether. The 911 Center for Joplin is located in the police department at the courts building in the municipal building. They dispatch for Joplin Police Department, Duquesne Police Department, and Joplin Fire Department. JASCO or Jasper County 9-1-1 dispatches for all of those 26 other agencies, including all Emergency Medical Service (EMS) calls for the city of Joplin. We do all of the medical calls for Joplin and Jasper County including getting an ambulance to Joplin while they’re dispatching to a fire. We have to work hand in hand in conjunction together to make sure that all of the citizens in Joplin or any residents in Jasper County that might call in needing assistance are taken care of, especially whenever it comes to medical calls. We are like sister agencies if you will. We both do the same things, but we do them for different public safety agencies.
That makes sense because Joplin does share a county line with Jasper and Newton county. So I can kind of see how everyone would just really need to work together, especially in situations of emergency like the tornado 10 years ago or anything that affects the city and the county both at the same time and multiple communities within.
April Ford: Exactly. Yeah. During the tornado, we helped at Joplin by helping dispatch on fire. And we did a deployment for telecommunicators around Missouri to come help. We were able to place trained dispatchers at different spots in Joplin. Of course, a lot of that was for EMS. So we had a lot of dispatchers onsite and in Joplin dispatching ambulances.
Coming up on the Jasper County August 3rd ballot, this ballot issue is throughout Jasper County, correct?
April Ford: Correct. That is an entire county ballot issue. It’s asking voters if the 9-1-1 Center would be permitted to improve funding. We haven’t done anything since then. Our first regional center was established back in 1994 when a vote was passed by Jasper County voters to establish 1/10th of 1% of a sales tax on a sale of goods to fund the 9-1-1 Center. Twenty-seven years later, we’ve been operating under that 1/10th of 1%. Currently are the second-lowest funded 9-1-1 center in the state of Missouri at that one 1/10th of 1%. Most 9-1-1 Centers that are using sales tax are either at a 1/4th of 1% or 7/8th of 1% or a full 1%. So there are a lot higher rates throughout Missouri. We realize that with the way technology is changing, we are going to have to be able to move with technology.
And to do that, we are looking to try to increase the funding of the 9-1-1 Center. So twenty-seven years ago, we passed a ballot issue. We haven’t done anything since then. So we’re asking the voters for an increase. If they were to spend a thousand dollars, then $1 currently goes back to the 9-1-1 Center for every thousand dollars spent. We’re asking them to increase that by $1.50. If we were to increase it up to a quarter of a percent, that would increase it to $2.50 for every thousand dollars spent to go to improved services at the 9-1-1 center.
The ballot language is very simple. It reads shall the Jasper county emergency services, nine 11 board through its board of directors, be permitted to increase the sales tax rate from 1/10th of 1% up to, but not to exceed 1/4th of 1%. The language continues for the purposes of infrastructure and a county-wide public safety radio system into ensuring the rapid dispatching of 9-1-1 calls and non-emergency calls for service for fire, police, and medical and all of those things are important. We can, of course, break those down and discuss those.
I was actually reading some of that information and some of it really astounded me, especially the number of organizations that you’re working in counterpart with. Did you say 26 agencies?
April Ford: Yes. We are dispatching for 26 agencies and providing service. Twenty-seven years ago, they didn’t realize that this would turn into something so large. Emergency planners also, I’m sure didn’t realize that things would change with the economy and the technology would change so much. So that’s kind of where we’re at now.
And in the community of Jasper county, you mentioned that they’re the second-lowest funded 9-1-1 system, but when you look at the population of other counties in Missouri, I think Jasper county is could be in the top 10 populated counties in Missouri.
April Ford: We actually have 114 counties in Missouri. Yes, the next lowest collection rate is 1/8th of 1% and that’s Springfield or Greene County, which of course they have a lot of industry, a lot of businesses. So they collect at 1/8th of 1% and they of course do very well. They operate with an emergency management office at the same place. We have worked hard to make sure that we’ve been good stewards of the citizen’s sales tax money to try to do the right thing and to try to keep our technology up as much as possible. There’s just so much coming so quickly that we have to get ourselves ready and prepared for the next generation of 9-1-1.
The ballot issue is broken down into a few different brackets, number one, being infrastructure including the JASCO 9-1-1 building and infrastructure for radio and data communication needs. Can you dive into that a little bit more?
April Ford: The first part infrastructure and the second part countywide public safety radio system kind of go hand in hand. Infrastructure is the Jasper County Emergency Services building or JASCO is what we’re called. The funding would also ensure that we have the tower and the equipment at the towers to be able to handle the wide public safety radio system. So currently, JASCO only owns and operates one tower, but leases or we have space on other towers for repeater equipment for our field units to be able to talk to one another on. If we’re going to build out county wide public safety radio system, then we would need to make sure we procure property, or we can lease property where we can erect a tower to put up a building for that tower and then put that equipment in that building and make sure that the tower is grounded properly and all of that.
That really does go hand in hand with the second part. So I’ll just dive into plans for the countywide public safety radio system. That is the part that’s really difficult in Jasper county because amongst all of our agencies, including Joplin, there are four different types of radio systems that an emergency agency can operate off of, but not all of those agencies have the funding to operate off of the best systems, and this is really unfortunate to a comprehensive 9-1-1 system. The push was and the goal is to be interoperable with one another as public safety agencies. But unfortunately, we are not completely able to communicate with one another. The state has a system and then some of our agencies are looking to move to that, which is a very expensive system. Joplin has a system. JASCO 9-1-1 has analog repeaters, which is just old technology and it doesn’t work very well.
Then, there is another system that the Sheriff’s office and the city of Carthage share, but that system on the county side will eventually go away because the Sheriff’s office is moving over to the state system. We would really like to put all of our agencies in a place where they can be on one system and communicate with each other. What we found in the past is a law call could go really bad if they can’t communicate with number one, each other, and number two, their dispatch center. And that has happened multiple times. And the same thing applies on the fire side, for fire and EMS. Our two EMS agencies, METS and Mercy can talk to one another, but unfortunately, when it comes to fire emergencies, some of our fire agencies are on different radio systems and only really two of them can talk to one another and bad or delayed communication makes it really hard.
So, our first responders carry multiple radios, physically in their trucks, engines on themselves, and that is unnecessary. But unfortunately, our agencies can not afford to do anything different. With a county-wide public safety radio system, we would build the infrastructure. We would build the technology, the equipment to connect and be interoperable with both the Joplin system and the state system and take JASCO 9-1-1 into the future because there is a standard way of building out radio systems and we would do that. Then, we would give portable and mobile radios to every department that needs them so that each response agency could actually jump on the system and be utilizing that system full-time with us and that they can talk to one another and they can talk back to their dispatch center. We just, we really need to do that for field safety and officer’s safety.
Our first responder’s safety is of the utmost importance, but also sometimes the citizen that needs help, they might put themselves in danger by picking up their phone or take their eyes off of the road to call us. And we do not want that anymore. So where this would also help is we’re currently having to replace our phone system for the 9-1-1 Center of both us and Joplin. We have the servers at Joplin, and JASCO 9-1-1 pays for those. We’re looking at connecting to another neighboring jurisdiction and we’ve already been budgeting for that. But down the road, the state of Missouri is looking at moving into Next-Generation 9-1-1, and to do that, is a very expensive endeavor and JASCO 9-1-1 would be responsible for connecting to the state. Additional income from tax revenue would get us into a position where we could connect to the state and what that Next-Generation allows us to do.
Although we already accept texts, it would allow us to accept additional information data from telemetric information from vehicles. If an accident victim were involved in a crash, it would allow us to accept pictures and things like that as well as store that data. It would allow us to share that call. If JASCO 9-1-1 is on a call and that individual is traveling, let’s say on I 44 the way that 9-1-1 currently works. You cannot really truly transfer a call with all of the data across state lines or to another carrier like JASCO 9-1-1 is not an AT&T customer. So you can’t transfer those emergency calls to another carrier like Century Link. But once the state moves into this Next Generation 9-1-1, and we are able to connect to that system, then we would be able to transfer those calls and get those to the right places.
Hypothetically, if someone is traveling I 44, let’s say, it was an abduction or an Amber Alert, something like that, and we know they’re headed westbound into Oklahoma. Then we could actually transfer those calls on to Oklahoma and give them all of the data that was available that will be down the road. That is the road path or the roadmap for 9-1-1 across the nation and Missouri is in the middle of working on that right now. They had a consultant for the state and they’re looking at pushing out a request for proposals for that.
Do you have anything to add regarding non-emergency calls for service to law enforcement, emergency medical services, and fire protection?
April Ford: Yes, back in 1994, when they pass the ballot language was to bring 9-1-1 services for centralized dispatching, but JASCO now receives a lot of non-emergency calls for service that come into the 9-1-1 center. What we’ve found is that we need dedicated around-the-clock call takers that can just focus on call taking and texting and not have to worry about answering radio traffic also. Sometimes we’re able to staff up if we know that there’s something going on in the center, but we cannot really staff up completely to handle a large shift in call volume and as the trend in call volume continues to increase the need for specialized telecommunicators, it’s putting us into a position at the center where what we are collecting and revenue sales tax revenue today as the 1/10th of 1% is what we’re spending today as the 1/10th of 1%.
April Ford: We need to get ourselves into a place where we can actually add additional staff to be able to handle an increased need in service calls. Currently, we have a dedicated call taker who can focus on calls. We’re all certified emergency medical dispatchers, and JASCO 9-1-1 is an accredited center of excellence, which means we’re providing pre-arrival instructions until an ambulance or first responder arrives on scene. And sometimes those calls can take 20 to 30 minutes until a unit is on scene depending on location and responding medical facility. Sometimes, transport to Springfield is necessary. So that ties up the staff who may also be dispatching for another agency, which in turn, takes their focus off of either radio traffic, or they can’t directly focus on other calls.
April Ford: We are just in a world of changing constantly social media and texting to 9-1-1. And we’re starting to see more and more of that type of service needed as well. We need to add more staff to the center to be able to handle all of those things. We believe that with a 1/4th of 1% sales tax dedicated to emergency response in Jasper County, JASCO 9-1-1 is going to be in a good place to be able to take the next steps for the future of emergency services and JASCO 9-1-1. Of course, we’ve done that for a long time. 27 years is a long time not to request a change in funding. So we’re ready. We’re ready to step up and move further into the future.
Twenty-seven years, it does seem like you’ve been good stewards of the taxpayer funding. Do you have anything else to add or is there anything we left out?
April Ford: Our goal is to make sure we educate everybody on the ballot language. The vote is August 3rd. It’s not an election that a lot of people go to. I always encourage people, if you’re going to an election, you’re going to be voting. Please be educated on the information that you’re voting on. You are welcome to call JASCO Emergency Center and ask for me, April Ford. Anytime, I can answer any questions that you have. If you don’t get me immediately, they’ll have me call you from my cell phone. I’m happy to answer any questions. I’m happy to come out and talk to people. I just really want to make sure I get the word out there and get the education out there for everybody so they can make a good informed decision. The non-emergency office number is 417-358-700 and my extension is 3300.
—– End Interview —–
August 3rd is a day for voters to hit the polls and identify priorities to their legislative officials by voting to approve (or declining) revenue streams that will support initiatives in local government. The Carthage Press and Virtual Carthage have produced a lot of content to make voter information available to all users. To be clear, the content provided in the links below is all repetitive and nearly the same language, but it is provided in formats that should appeal to readers, listeners, and viewers. Please take time to review the format in your preferred method and go vote on August 3rd.
Podcast – Ten Minute Tuesday
Video Interview with full-screen graphics – Virtual Carthage on YouTube