GALLIPOLIS — Officials from the Gallia 911 Communications Center and Gallia Commissioners held a public hearing at the Gallia Courthouse Thursday to discuss renewing a sales tax operating levy for the center on upcoming ballots.
“This is our first public hearing for a sales tax to be put on the ballot this year in November for the countywide 911 system,” said Gallia 911 Communications and Gallia Emergency Management Agency Director Sherry Daines.
The Gallia 911 program reportedly started in the mid-90s with its communication center being opened in September 1997, said Daines.
According to Gallia Commissioner Harold Montgomery, the 911 sales tax issue must be placed before voters every five years so the communications center can continue operating at its current financial level. County officials said of all legal taxable goods and services purchased in Gallia, a quarter of one percent in sales went back to the center. Should voters approve the measure, they would continue paying the same quarter of one percent sales tax.
Gallia’s total sales tax is currently seven and a quarter percent. Commissioners reached the cap for the county sales tax with another quarter of one percent raise in April due to what were called emergency concerns with the opioid epidemic affecting the county general fund. Had the sales tax raise been specifically targeted to fund a specific department or segment of Gallia’s government, it would come before the voters to decide, as per Chapter 5739 of the Ohio Revised Code, cited commissioners previously. However, if just for the general fund, commissioners needed only hold a unanimous vote to raise the tax.
With the addition of Ohio’s 5.75 percent sales tax and Gallia’s capped 1.5 percent sales tax, that puts the total sales tax paid in Gallia at 7.25 percent.
“This is not a new levy and we’re not asking for additional funds,” said Montgomery. “We’re asking to continue funding the 911 system.”
“The 911 has been a special operation for this county and we hope to keep it that way,” said Gallia Commissioner Brent Saunders. “We hope people continue to recognize that and get out and vote.”
Montgomery said it is the responsibility of the county and townships to provide emergency call services. If the sales tax is voted down, he said he felt it would be devastating to an already tight general fund and affect first responder services negatively.
In 2018, a quarter of one percent sales tax brought roughly $962,000 to 911 services. Daines said that specific money funds only the 911 center’s employees as well as any equipment issues or upgrades needed.
The center has roughly 20 employees. The center reportedly operates 24 hours a day on three shifts and six radio towers. The center tries to keep three people on the day and evening shifts and two after midnight. Daines said that sometimes an administrator may need to step in and help take calls during heavier call traffic.
“The 911 center, we dispatch and receive calls for the Gallia Sheriff’s Office, Gallipolis Police Department, the Rio Grande Village Police Department, all Gallia’s fire departments and Gallia EMS,” said Daines. “So, we take every call for them even on their seven-digit lines. Everything comes to our office and back out. Thankfully, it was set up that way so we don’t have to transfer calls, it saves a lot of times for the call that needs emergency assistance.”
Daines said the center receives all emergency and first responder calls for Gallia County except for those made to Ohio Highway State Patrol posts.
“When we set ours up almost 22 years ago, that wasn’t common,” said Daines when asked if it was common across the state for county emergency call services to handle nearly all local emergency communications. “Gallia did a good thing for the citizens setting it up that way. It’s basically one stop. Now, there are several counties around the state trying to get this implemented and consolidating and that can be difficult.”
Daines said she felt this put Gallia a step ahead of many counties in Ohio.
“This means we don’t duplicate services,” said Montgomery.
Daines said that the 911 center is within Ohio’s rules for emergency communications compliance and all dispatchers have reportedly been trained in emergency medical dispatch.
“Anyone answering a 911 call that has a potential to be a medical call has to have that,” said Daines. “It’s continuing education for them. Ohio has set down some strict standards for us and that’s a good thing.”
The 911 director said the center often has booths at fairs for public education and is happy to lead tours of the 911 facility with those asking.
The 911 center also provides an emergency alert service through the form of calls, texts and email for those wishing to register.
The center’s non-emergency number is 740-446-3126, according to Gallianet.com, and can be called to prevent tying up emergency lines.
Another public hearing on the 911 sales tax issue is slated for July 11 at 11 a.m. in the Gallia Courthouse.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.