New 911 agency under consideration

The city of Tacoma is working to assemble a future public safety communications system, tentatively called South Sound 911.

Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano discussed the effort during two recent meetings of Tacoma City Council’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee.

Arellano said the effort is spurred in part by a mandate from the federal government to upgrade the emergency radio system by 2013.

The current system has public safety answering point (PSAP) facilities and radio infrastructure. Calls for fire services in the area goes to PSAPs operated by Tacoma Fire Department and West Pierce Fire & Rescue. Calls for law enforcement service for many, but not all, local police departments go through Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA).

The city has put together an interlocal agreement with the city of Lakewood and West Pierce Fire & Rescue. Arellano explained that the parties and the residents of Pierce County would benefit from a system consolidated into a single agency, both in terms of efficiency and economy. Under the agreement, the three parties would continue to own and operate their radio systems.

The system infrastructure needs to be upgraded to ensure it operates properly, and adequate funding is needed to conduct such upgrades.

Arellano said the city wants Pierce County Council to vote in favor of placing a ballot measure before the voters.

If approved, the county could impose a sales and use tax of 1/10 of 1 percent to pay for financing, design, acquisition, construction, equipping and operating the system and facilities.

This would be combined with a 20-cent next generation 911 tax approved by the County Council last year. This is per phone line, assessed each month.

Puyallup, Fife and Bonney Lake have their own dispatch systems. Arellano said there have been discussions with officials of those cities about their possible interest in joining the new system. He said the total number of PSAPs in the county would decrease if that happens.

Citizens of those cities would benefit from a new, modern system, he added.

“We want to make a good business argument for them to do that,” Arellano said.

Arellano said the plan is for the county to issue 15-year bonds to pay for radio equipment and a 25-year bond to pay for facilities. He said LESA’s current space is inadequate. Staff with that agency would be transitioned into South Sound 911.

The agency would have a policy board that would oversee the executive director.

TFD Chief Ron Stephens said fire chiefs would have some input over day-to-day operations of the system. The proposed new agency would have the capacity to bring in more partners in the future, he noted.

“We believe this will position our organization to have a better government structure and organization,” Stephens remarked.

A decision to put the measure on the ballot must be made and paperwork submitted to the county auditor by August in order to put it up for a vote in fall 2011.


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