Posted: Jun. 2, 2014 9:00 pm Updated: Jun. 23, 2014 9:15 pm
By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
NEW LONDON, Mo. — More than anything else, Michael Arnold said what drew him to Northeast Missouri was the commitment of the people of Ralls County.
“When I saw they had passed a tax increase to make this happen, that’s when I knew I wanted to work for them,” he said. “It was one of those ‘ahhhh’ moments.”
Arnold, 46, was introduced Monday night as the new Ralls County 911 director. He comes to the area from Miller County in the Lake of the Ozarks region, where he had worked for the past nine years in 911 emergency services, including the last eight as director.
Arnold will be paid $55,000. His first day on the job will be June 16.
“I’m blessed to be here, and we’re going to do things the right way,” Arnold said. “We only get one chance at this, and it will be done right.”
Arnold was chosen from a pool of 21 applicants. The application and interviewing process began about five months ago.
The naming of Arnold as director provided a bookend to a tumultuous year for Ralls County 911. Marion County 911 has handled Ralls County’s emergency calls since mid-June 2013 when it shut down following a vote of no-confidence from several emergency agencies, the resignation of the center’s director and the loss of nearly half the 911 staff.
Former Ralls County 911 Director Laurie Means tendered her resignation June 17, 2013. She had been hired less than two years earlier.
Neither the Ralls County 911 board nor Arnold could pinpoint any sort of specific date for resumption of the county’s 911 service.
“It will take time to hire and to train (a new staff),” board member Rich Adair said.
“We won’t rush this,” Arnold said. “We’ll do it right.”
Arnold oversaw a staff of 22 in Miller County. Ralls County had been working with a staff of “around seven or eight” due to a lack of funding. That number included both full- and part-time workers, according to Adair.
Until the Ralls County 911 service is up and running again, the county will continue to contract with Marion County 911 on a month-to-month basis. The per-month payment continues to be $31,168.
Ralls County voters overwhelming approved a half-cent sales tax hike in November that was designed to re-open the 911 center. The added tax is expected to nearly double what the previous half-cent tax generated ($474,000) toward the center’s ability to upgrade equipment and train staff.
Ralls County 911 has operated at a deficit five times in the past eight years. The agency delayed raises, equipment upgrades and training to try and make ends meet, and often left vacant positions open for months at a time.
Those deficiencies prompted Hannibal Rural Fire Protection District Chief Mike Dobson and leaders of more than a dozen other emergency agencies to voice their lack of confidence a year ago at this time. He was concerned about the safety of his firefighters and residents because he said dispatchers were often confused with even standard emergency codes.
“We’ll get it back and going again,” Arnold promised.