It’s official: Voters will be asked to renew a temporary tax levy for Deschutes County 911 in May.
The Deschutes County Commission, which also serves as the 911 district’s governing body, on Monday unanimously supported a ballot measure that would ask voters to continue funding the district at its current level. Property owners currently pay a permanent tax rate of 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and a five-year tax levy of 23 cents per $1,000.
The temporary tax was approved in 2008 and expires in June. The May ballot measure will ask voters to extend the 23-cents-per-$1,000 temporary tax levy.
“This is a status quo continuation of our current funding level,” Rob Poirier, the 911 director, told commissioners Monday. “This is just our attempt to continue that level of funding at the rate it currently is.”
The temporary tax levy currently provides the district with about $3.5 million each year, almost half of its $7.5 million annual operating budget.
Statewide, the average tax rate is 37 cents per $1,000 for 911 services. If the temporary tax levy passes in May, Deschutes County property owners would continue to pay 39 cents per $1,000. For a property with an assessed value of $200,000, that equals $78 a year.
Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton said passing this levy was the most important thing the county would do this year.
“In my opinion, we can talk about the best education for youngsters, we can talk about economic development, we can talk about the strong need for public safety,” he said. “But 911 and how that initial call is answered, that right there is the foundation for all public safety in Deschutes County. Without it, I don’t know what we will do.”
If the tax levy fails in May, Poirier has said the 911 district would either ask law enforcement and fire agencies to pay user fees for 911 services or hire their own dispatchers to work in the 911 facility.
“We need to work every day to get this out there, to get it supported and passed,” Commissioner Alan Unger said.
Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale said he would support the levy because the dispatch center was efficient and working well and he wanted to see that continue.
Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills agreed.
“The 911 dispatch center is a lifeline to our homeowners and taxpayers in Sunriver,” he said. “Oftentimes, people think a 911 calltaker is just talking to them and they don’t realize that at the same time they’re going back and forth with the officers and deputies out on the road. ... It’s critical to what we do and how we do our job out on the road.”
The election is scheduled for May 21.