Sales tax increase to fund emergency radio system upgrade before county voters in November

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Snohomish County voters will be asked in November to consider a 1/10th of 1 percent sales tax increase to replace Snohomish County’s failing, 20-year old emergency 911 radio system.

The Snohomish County Council voted unanimously last week to place the measure on the ballot. If approved, the sales tax would raise the money needed –estimated at $70 million to $75 million — to replace the current outdated  system now used by the Snohomish County Emergency Radio System (SERS).

In service since the mid-1990s, the system operates 24/7, carrying an average 19,000 transmissions each day. It depends on roughly 5,000 portable and mobile analog Motorola radios, many of which were manufactured before the turn of the century. When they break down — which is happening with increasing frequency — parts are difficult to find. And it will soon become impossible, as Motorola has announced that they will completely stop making parts and supporting the equipment in 2020.

Local public safety leaders from throughout Snohomish County as well as local elected officials appealed to members of Snohomish County Council and County Executive Dave Somers, asking that they take “urgent action” to help replace the system.

Testifying before the county council prior to its vote last week, SERS Executive Director Brad Steiner said the measure “is the most equitable method of raising funds on a countywide basis to build the sustained systems that provide benefits to every single citizen in the county.”

Once the radio communication system was upgraded, the tax would remain in place “for the ongoing sustainability of that system, and the faster adoption of new emergency communications technologies within the county,” Steiner said.

“The people in our communities deserve this level of service and have a realistic expectation that when they call, we will come, added City of Mill Creek Police Chief Greg Elwin, speaking as current president of the Snohomish County Sheriff and Police Chiefs Association, “A two-way radio system is the backbone of communications between officers, deputies and the 911 center that collects and disseminates this information.”

Added South County Fire & Rescue Chief Bruce Stedman:”We need to provide these individuals (firefighters and law enforcement officers) with the tools and equipment to be safe, make sure they go home at night and provide that service for the community.”

The county council voted 5-0 to approve an ordinance to place the proposition on the November 2018 general election ballot. Next steps will be formation of pro and con committees, as well as finalizing ballot language for the measure.

 

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