Deschutes County voters need to approve the 911 levy proposal that appears on the May ballot.
During early March, I expressed my concerns at a Deschutes County Commission meeting that the 911 District budget appeared to contain an excessive surplus and that the surplus was growing faster than necessary. The county commissioners and sheriff replied that some pending projects were going to require a considerable amount of funds although the costs were not yet fully identified, and provided reasons for the surplus. Subsequent to that meeting, I was invited to meet with Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale, Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton and Cpt. Erik Utter, 911 Director Rob Poirier, County Commissioner Alan Unger, and County Administrator Tom Anderson.
The response by these officials was very respectful, and they provided clear, understandable and compelling reasons for the funds and the levy. They did sharpen their pencils, so to speak, and reduced the levy proposal by three cents without reducing the reserve funds in the short term.
There are several reasons for the 911 District budget reserves. The primary reason is that Deschutes County is mandated to install a new countywide Public Safety Communications System. The price tag will be determined this summer. In addition, the 911 Center has a critical need to upgrade technology and equipment frequently in order to keep up with the needs of the population in Deschutes County. Consider how long you owned your cellphone or computer before it became outdated or repair became infeasible.
Over one half of the District’s revenue has for the last five years been provided by a temporary levy with no guarantee that a bad local economy might prohibit the levy renewal. This has caused the district to staff the 911 Center below optimal levels and to delay spending on desirable projects. The result is a larger reserve than would be needed if the district was funded by one permanent levy. These facts justify the need for the proposed levy. After a detailed discussion and meeting with our county officials, I am personally confident that our tax dollars will be spent responsibly and funds will not be assessed if they are not needed. For example, the county sheriff’s department is not taxing to the full extent of its authority granted by voters.
If this levy proposal does not pass, it will leave a hole of approximately $3.5 million in the district’s budget and possibly force some undesirable changes, such as user fees. Allocating user fees to each of the numerous jurisdictions would require the passage of levies by those jurisdictions ,and the end result would be that all of us would need to pay higher taxes to manage the accounting of the user fee system. The current system for 911 to handle calls for numerous jurisdictions saves taxpayers a lot of money.
Once the new communications system is in place and operating, the 911 District can get a handle on expected costs and project the district’s financial needs into the future and work toward the passage of a permanent levy. This would reduce the size of the needed surplus and the cost to us all.
I must give recognition of the caliber of 911 staff who serve as telecommunicators. Consider the personal qualities needed to answer a call from a frantic mother or spouse who fears their loved one is dying, and to calmly give lifesaving directions or much-needed advice to the caller while also alerting paramedics and relaying the nature of the distress along with directions to the scene, all the while trying to calm the caller and maintain their own composure.
The 911 Center provides a much-needed service. They will never ask you if you voted for this levy when you call them. I ask you to support this levy.