Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 291 last week, which leaves Jefferson County 911 Dispatch officials hoping the agency gets to keeps its current funding.
The bill includes an amendment from Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, that may negate the passage of Prop 9-1-1 that Jefferson County residents approved in April allowing 911 to maintain its 1/2-cent sales tax instead of reducing it to 1/4 cent.
The proposition received 15,301 votes (70.67 percent) in favor of keeping the sales tax at 1/2 cent to 6,350 votes (29.33 percent) against. A simple majority was needed for approval.
Whether the public vote or Wieland’s amendment comes out on top is yet to be determined, said 911 Dispatch Chief Travis Williams.
“We’re still just kind of in holding,” Williams said. “We sent the election certification to the DOR (Department of Revenue). We sent them a letter. They sent a letter back saying they will continue to collect our 1/2-cent sales tax for us.”
But Wieland’s 2019 amendment – tucked into a bill that “cleans up” 2018 legislation aimed at expanding 911 coverage into underserved parts of the state – says otherwise.
The 911 1/2-cent sales tax has been in effect since 2009, when voters approved it on the condition that it would “sunset” in a decade, dropping from 1/2 cent to 1/4 cent, after the completion of a countywide tower-building project to improve communication.
In its April 2 election campaign, 911 asked voters to allow the district to continue collecting the 1/2-cent tax to provide funds to deal with an increase in calls and to meet the need for continual upgrades.
Wieland lobbied against the tax measure, arguing that 911 does not need the money and should keep its promise.
In addition to campaigning against the April 2 tax measure, he included language in his amendment to reverse any action that would keep the tax at 1/2 cent.
The amendment stipulates that 911 agencies serving counties with a charter form of government and with a population between 200,000 and 350,000 cannot have a sales tax greater than 1/4 cent. Jefferson County is the only county in the state that meets that criteria.
The amendment also says, “If on the effective date of this section such tax is greater than one-quarter of one percent, the board shall lower the tax rate.”
Williams said 911 Dispatch leaders believe their agency has been unfairly singled out by Wieland’s legislation.
“I consider it special legislation,” he said. “No other county is affected by this legislation in the state. It pretty much targets our county. It pretty much circles our county.”
Williams said Wieland has attempted to stop 911 Dispatch from gaining voter approval to keep its sales tax at a 1/2 cent twice and neither attempt was successful.
Wieland inserted a similar amendment into 2018 legislation, but according to 911 leaders, the senator had cited an incorrect statute, so that amendement did not apply to their agency.
Williams said even though the 2019 legislation has now been signed by the governor, it happened after the April 2 voter approval of Prop 9-1-1, so it was not in effect at the time of the vote.
He said that since Wieland apparently targeted 911 with special legislation and since voters approved the April 2 ballot issue allowing 911 to keep the 1/2-cent sales tax, those could be reasons for litigation.
No matter what, Williams said, the vote of the people should not be ignored.
“I think we’ve shown voters and citizens of this county we are good stewards of their money and that’s why they passed the ballot measure,” he said.
Wieland did not return a message left on his cell phone seeking comment for this story.
Senate Bill 291 was passed in both the state House and Senate during the last legislative session and only needed a signature from Parson to become law. He signed it July 9.