Editorial: Campaign needed for 911 levy

Most of us haven’t dialed 911 in years, maybe ever, so it’s not front and center in our minds. But if we ever find ourselves in a crisis, we’ll count on the service being there.

That means we need to pay for it. Voters didn’t get that message clearly enough in May 2012 when they rejected a permanent funding measure. This May, they’ll likely get a chance to partially correct that error by approving a five-year extension of a temporary tax.

We have one message for voters: Say yes.

But we also have a message for 911 and Deschutes County: Get out there and tell the story.

Campaigning gets plenty of criticism during election season, and for good reason. Too much of it is designed to attack and obscure, rather than educate and inform. But if voters are being asked to spend money, they have to be told why. The argument must be made consistently, convincingly and repeatedly.

That requires a concerted effort, a campaign in its best sense.

The Bend Park & Recreation District recently showed us how it’s done. Using a variety of methods, the district made its case, convincing voters to approve a $29 million levy.

A critical service like 911 doesn’t have the fun factor of new parks and recreational opportunities, so the campaign is all the more difficult.

Funding for 911 is now largely based on two tax measures, one permanent and the other expiring in June. Voters will likely be asked on their May ballots to maintain the same level of taxation by extending the temporary tax that provides nearly half of 911’s $7.5 million annual operating budget.

No tax increase here, just maintaining what’s already there.

Without it, service will diminish and costs will shift to local law enforcement agencies already struggling to maintain existing services.

This should be an important yes for voters, but last year it wasn’t. An effective campaign might lead to a different result this year.