The Grays Harbor Communications Center, which runs 911 dispatching for most of the county, will ask the voters to increase its sales tax revenue in November.
This month, the Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to be placed on the November General Election ballot that would increase sales taxes across the county by one-tenth of one percent (just over $1 million per year).
“It’s imperative that we make improvements to the radio infrastructure and we have no other way to do it,” said Brenda Cantu, GHCC executive director. “We have no other way to raise the funds. We certainly wouldn’t be going out to the community if we didn’t have to.”
The money would be used to improve the radio infrastructure, Cantu said. Five years ago, the agency received a bid to make upgrades to the current fire and emergency medical services radio system, which included installing “a couple new radio towers,” that estimated costs around $8 million by ADCOMM Engineering Company in Bothell.
“The additional 1/10th of 1 percent would be used strictly for infrastructure needs,” Cantu said. “Our first issue that we would be addressing is our radio system. Our current radio system is over 25 year old, and we are struggling to maintain it and to provide a service that is reliable. That is our No. 1 concern.”
GHCC services 30 agencies across the county. The only two local fire, EMS or law enforcement agencies that operate in the county not serviced by GHCC are the Washington State Patrol and the Chehalis Tribal Police Department. Cantu said about one-third of their $3.5 million annual budget comes from the current sales tax. The remainder comes from a phone tax of about 70 cents per line, and user agency contributions.
Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard said that this money would go to upgrade the “backbone” of the radio system.
“The big piece that we’ve been missing over the years, and we’ve been doing the best we can, is all the radio towers and microwaves and all the hardware that supports that system back to the dispatch center,” he said. “And that is truly what that one-tenth would help address. …
“It’s like your telephone. Everybody has a telephone in their house and nobody thinks about the backbone that makes that phone work. That is what this increase is all about.”
As written, there is no end date for the increase of the sales tax.
Cantu and Hubbard both stressed the need for upgrades.
“We have to be prepared to continually maintain our system. And for the past 10 years, there has not been money in our community to do something like this,” Cantu said. “But we’re at the point where we have to do something. We can’t just Band-Aid things together. We’ve been fortunate to keep it going as long as we have.”
The GHCC is led by two governing boards. The Operations Board consists of law enforcement leaders in the county; the Administrative board is made up of one county commissioner and mayors of the majority of the cities in the county. Both bodies would have to approve upgrades to the system.
Voters will get their say on the increase Nov. 5.