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New tax could upgrade southeast Missouri 911 call centers

The tax on prepaid cellphones started January 1, 2019 and can be seen as a revenue source for...
The tax on prepaid cellphones started January 1, 2019 and can be seen as a revenue source for the many emergency call centers in southeast Missouri that still use a basic 911 system. (Source: Pixabay.com)((Source: Pixabay.com))
Updated: Jan. 4, 2019 at 9:31 PM CST
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DEXTER, MO (KFVS) - A new tax on prepaid cell phones might give 911 call centers in rural Missouri counties a much-needed upgrade.

The tax only applies to prepaid cellphones and started January 1, 2019.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, Missouri and Wisconsin were the only states not funding dispatch centers by taxing wireless phone services.

Emergency call centers in Southeast Missouri see it as a revenue source they can use to update their technology and help first responders do their job.

Upgrades happening right now at Stoddard County 911 Services offer a glimpse of what other rural counties could expect with the new prepaid cellphone tax.

Carol Moreland is the 911 administrator for Stoddard County and says they got a jump start after a county-wide sales tax passed 2016.

“It passed by 76 percent majority so that tells me that Stoddard County is pro public safety and we are so proud of that," Moreland said. “We were funded by a landline tax before that, so our funding was decreasing for years and we were going broke. We were on our last year when the tax passed."

Moreland and other board members came up with the idea to form a consortium with Stoddard County Ambulance District, the county sheriff, and the police departments in Bernie, Bloomfield and Dexter.

Dispatchers and first responders from all of those agencies will start training to use the new 911 software a Computer Aided Dispatch system, or CAD, in the coming months.

Moreland says the CAD system, which is powered by Zuercher Technologies, can automatically locate where cell phone caller is.

“Can you imagine receiving a call from someone who is having chest pains and you can’t find them,” she said. “They can’t tell you where they are at. Wouldn’t that be heartbreaking? We had that situation and one of our dispatcher was diligent and finally found that caller. The system helps and 911 addressing helps.”

David Cooper manages the Stoddard County Ambulance District and thinks the new system could be the difference between life and death.

“I think it’s going to save lives," Cooper said. "I think our response times are going to be quicker. I think we will be able to serve the citizens a lot better.”

Cooper says the CAD system will also allow EMS and Police departments to have access to a crime map and quickly share information with each other.

“For safety reasons its nice to know if violence has happened at a residence and we are sending a crew out there in the middle of the night," Cooper said. "If we know that in advance we can send law enforcement with us on those calls. We’re actually going to be able to see in our trucks the location of the other responding agencies.”

Moreland is excited other counties can start using grant money from the new pre-paid cell phone tax to enhance their own emergency call centers.

“It is major. You know we have 17 counties in state of missouri that still do not have a 911 systems. Isn’t that sad," Moreland said. "They are just answering a phone. They don’t have mapping, they do not have addressing.”

Cooper says any new equipment or software other counties can add into their emergency communication will help ems and law enforcement do their job more efficiently.

“It’s great to know that the counties that don’t have it are going to be the ones that they work with first because we have some poor counties in this state," Cooper said. "It’s important that the whole state of Missouri have access to 911. I can’t imagine going backwards and not having it here because its a game changer.”

Cape Girardeau County is looking at the same system by Zuercher and could be the next area in the Heartland to upgrade their 911 services.

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