Not all support county's 911 ballot measure
October 24, 2011 · 4:14 PM
Pierce County voters are being asked to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to pay for an upgrade to the county's 911 system that County Executive Pat McCarthy said would bring all dispatch services under the same roof.
"We're looking at trying to take a system that's disparate and unconnected and connect it," she said.
The move is predicated by a 2004 FCC mandate to move communications services to a narrower broadcast band that must be completed by January 2013, but McCarthy said the main driver for the ballot measure is fixing the "Swiss cheese approach to radio communications" that currently serves the county.
"Why not capitalize on this opportunity to really look at making a more efficient system for everyone?" she asked.
But not all are on board, including many in the city of Bonney Lake, which has already spent more than $3 million to upgrade its own communications facilities following the mandate, money being paid off through debt service.
Bonney Lake teamed with Sumner, Edgewood and Puyallup to upgrade its system to 800 mHz, an approved system, and construct a new tower as well as buy new radios.
Though the city has not taken an official position on the ballot measure, Mayor Neil Johnson said he is personally opposed to the measure and does not think it is good for the city or its residents.
"The city of Bonney Lake will be axed twice for the same system," Johnson said. "Our system is basically up to speed. We're ready to go."
Johnson said he thinks the county is asking for too much money for what is needed and said he believes cities should be reimbursed for money they have already spent on the issue.
Johnson sent McCarthy a letter in July outlining the city's position on the measure, but said he did not hear back.
"These cities had the foresight to get ahead of the curve should not be coerced into paying for a second system which may not be able to match the same level of service we enjoy now," the letter reads.
McCarthy said the county has studied the issue for several years and the proposal to combine the dispatch under a single roof makes sense because of economies of scale, as well as making sure all first responders are interconnected in the case of an emergency.
"In these days and times, we need to look at collaborating," McCarthy said, adding that Bonney Lake would benefit from a "rising tide" that would help all of the county's 23 jurisdictions and said the city is "not an island."
"This is something bigger than all of us," she said. "It's about creating a unified system."
Under the proposal, the county would collect the additional sales tax of one cent per $10 purchase, estimated to bring in approximately $11 per year.
All of the county's 911 centers would be consolidated into two facilities, including one in east Pierce County and one in Tacoma, to provide an emergency backup should one center be unusable. All police and fire dispatch would be run out of the consolidated centers.
McCarthy said it did not make sense to pay other jurisdictions for investments they have already made. The tax is also scheduled to sunset in 25 years or when the debt service is paid off.
"We're all bringing resources to the table," McCarthy said. "This sets the stage for the future and we do meed to be communicating across jurisdictions."
McCarthy said all of the county's firefighters, including East Pierce Fire and Rescue is in favor of the measure, as well as 83 percent of the county's police agencies.
But Johnson said he still sees the issue as the county not taking the initiative when the mandate for change came down and now trying to make up the money on those who did.
"Our 911 system works just fine," he said. "If there's issues, fix the areas that have issues."
Pierce County Proposition 1 is on the Nov. 8 ballot. A simple majority is required for passage.