Pierce County Council decided on July 19 to place a tax increase on the ballot in November to pay for an upgraded police and fire radio system and create a new dispatch agency with modern facilities. If approved by voters, it would raise the sales tax by .1 percent, or one cent on a $10 purchase.
The increase would collect close to $12 million a year to fund an upgrade to the radio system so that law enforcement personnel and firefighters across the county could communicate with each other. A patchwork of incompatible systems are currently used. The upgrade is needed to comply with a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission that requires a switch to narrow band channels by 2013. It would create a new agency, South Sound 911, with two new facilities where employees would answer and direct calls for fire, police and medical response.
Kevin Phelps, deputy county executive, told the council the new system will address needs that must be met. If implemented, the system would be among the best in the western United States, according to Phelps.
Sheriff Paul Pastor said that tax increases are not popular. “What is popular is being safe.”
The proposal has generated controversy in some parts of the county that have modernized their own dispatch centers, such as Fife and Puyallup.
Councilmember Joyce McDonald, who represents the Puyallup area, voted against the resolution. She said 100,000 of her constituents “are not yet on board” with the idea.
Councilmember Dan Roach said people in Puyallup and Bonney Lake will vote against the tax increase. He voted against the resolution. He offered an amendment, which failed, that would have prevented this money from being used for operating costs. He said the tax would raise $295 million in 25 years for a system that will cost $157 million to build. Roach pondered what might happen to the remainder of the money.
“I think it is a very common-sense proposal,” he said. “The public needs to know where that money is going.”
Councilmember Dick Muri supported the amendment. He noted some money the county gets from state and federal sources will eventually dry up. “If we want to get our fiscal house in order, we cannot expect that money to keep flowing.” He said all the money raised will stay within the new 911 system.
Another amendment passed that would end the tax at the end of 2036.