Chelan and Douglas County residents will have the opportunity to vote on several ballot measures on the Aug. 6 ballot. One of those measures is the renewal of the Emergency Communications and Facilities Tax.
Originally presented and approved by the voters in 2009, this 1/10 off 1 percent sales and use tax has provided RiverCom (the 9-1-1 center for Chelan and Douglas counties) with the funds needed to upgrade an outdated radio system and other equipment. This radio system provides communication between RiverCom and law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services throughout the two county area. It also allows all of those agencies to talk to one another before, during and after responses. The radio system is one of the critical links for these response agencies. Without the radio system that River-Com operates, each agency would have to build, own and maintain their own radio infrastructure, certainly not an efficient or practical undertaking. RiverCom was formed fourteen years ago to address the issue of redundancy and duplicated systems as well as other problems that come with having multiple 9-1-1 centers in the same area.
When RiverCom was established in 2004, the Washington State E911 Coordinating Office provided funds to RiverCom that helped significantly with operations costs for the center. Over time, help from the Washington State E911 Office has been steadily reduced while the costs to operate have steadily risen. The equipment and buildings that house the equipment that were used to originally get RiverCom up and running was as often as not second hand — for example second hand radios kept in a used “shipping container” on a mountain top location. Staff did a great job and continue to make everything work on a continuous basis, but age and new technology require new equipment and new facilities.
The Emergency Communications tax has allowed RiverCom to make changes and upgrades to the radio system in order to better serve first responders and the public. Without this funding, projects would not have been completed, federally mandated changes and the associated cost would have prevented other upgrades or changes. Costs for these projects would have been passed on to the law, fire and EMS user agencies, impacting their ability to spend for other programs.
It would be wonderful if 9-1-1 could operate with the funds that come from the 9-1-1 tax on telephones and nothing more. The reality is that is not happening anywhere in Washington state. During my tenure as the Director of RiverCom, we saw increased incoming telephone call volumes, increased incidents that we sent our user agencies to, increased personnel costs, equipment that has become more and more complex which brings a higher cost, and the list goes on and on. Over the same time the revenue that comes from 9-1-1 taxes has stayed virtually the same, with no change in sight.
Having served in public safety for 42 years, I know that whenever there have been events where first responders were injured, one of the first issues to be reviewed is communications — via radio or phone as well as through direct spoken word. In order for our responders to have the best “communications system,” one that can be relied upon to operate 24/7/365, RiverCom must continually maintain, upgrade and expand the system. This can only be done with funds from the Emergency Communications tax.
In order for RiverCom to continue to operate as a regional 9-1-1 center, and provide the high quality that this region has come to expect, the renewal of the Emergency Communications tax is critical. I urge you to VOTE YES for the renewal of this tax. Your life or the life of a loved one may depend on it!
Jim Fosse served as the Director of RiverCom from 2013-2019. He and his wife live in Wenatchee. Prior to working at RiverCom, he worked for the Seattle Fire Department and Whatcom County Fire District Two. He retired from Seattle Fire as a Deputy Chief.