Pemiscot County residents will be asked to consider increasing their sales tax at the polls on Apr. 8 to help out with emergency 9-1-1 services and law enforcement according to Pemiscot County Presiding Commissioner Jim Atchison. During an interview with the Examiner on Jan. 8, Atchison said the County Commission approved the propositions to be put on the ballot.
“Pemiscot County has one of the lowest sales taxes in the surrounding areas,” Atchison said, “These services are vital and the Commission felt it necessary to ask the voters to consider passing the increase to help fund the necessary services.”
The voters will actually be asked to vote on two separate sales tax propositions. The first is a one cent increase to help fund the emergency 9-1-1 services. Atchison says the program is in desperate need of updating and that taxes on landlines used to help pay for the service and updates. “So many people have cancelled their landlines and switched to cell phones, that are not taxed for 9-1-1,” Atchison said, “The revenues from that tax keep dwindling and it just doesn’t bring in enough to help fund and keep the service running.”
Atchison said that if voters pass the tax, it will also help upgrade the equipment to fund a vital service that cell phone usage has caused. “Currently if a person calls 9-1-1 from a cell phone, we are not able to determine their location,” he said, “With the one cent tax, we hope to upgrade the equipment so that a 9-1-1 cell phone caller can be located.” He says that this service is vital and necessary and will allow emergency responders to locate someone in an emergency quicker.
The second tax is a three-fourths of a cent increase in the sales tax for county law enforcement. Atchison says that county revenues are running in the red, and the funds would help support the Sheriff’s department, deputies, dispatch and jail. Currently some cities in the county pay a dispatch and jail fee, and Atchison says passage of this increase would do away with those payments so that citizens should not feel they were “double taxed” for the services.
“We feel that putting it to the voters as a sales tax increase is the fairest way to do it,” Atchison said, “It spreads the tax out so that everyone who utilizes the services pays it, and it also collects the tax from visitors and tourists who spend money in the county.” Atchison says that without the passage of the law enforcement sales tax, the Commission will have to determine how the services will continue and how to pay for them. Currently the Justice Center houses all of the municipal prisoners and provides dispatch for everyone in the county.
“Sheriff Greenwell and his staff have done an excellent job of budgeting and cutting every place they can,” Atchison said, “It is a basic matter of the economy and the funds needed to provide these necessary services. “
Atchison says that he or the County Commissioners are available to speak to groups and help explain the basis of the decision to ask for the sales tax and what it means to county residents. “We know people have a tough time voting on taxes,” he said, “But I think if the voters can grasp an understanding about how the funds are necessary to keep vital services, it will help when they go to the polls.” Voters can pass the sales tax by a simple majority.