Proposal to enhance radio services in I-5 corridor could drain funds for statewide emergency dispatch network
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget could cause long-term problems for Whitcom.
Gregoire has proposed that $10 million from the Washington Enhanced 911 fund be used to improve radio interoperability in the Interstate-5 corridor. The money originally was earmarked to replace a 30-year-old statewide 911 network.
The current system, which was designed for quick access from one dispatch center to another, is unreliable and restrictive, Whitcom Director Patti VonBargen said.
Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said diverting money away from crucial dispatch projects could be debilitating for state policing. It also could mean problems locally for Whitcom, a dispatch center that serves Whitman and Asotin counties and the cities of Pullman and Moscow.
“The dispatcher is the first person you hear in an emergency,” he said. “You can’t take any part of that link away and not affect how that system works.”
The E911 fund receives money from the statewide E911 tax, which charges Washington cell phone users 20 cents per month. VonBargen said money from the E911 fund is granted to 39 state dispatch centers to partially fund employee salaries, equipment and training. Money also is allocated each year to the strategic fund to save for long-term projects, such as the new statewide dispatch network. The multi-million dollar state dispatch update project was still in the initial phases. No date for implementation had been set.
“I know that money’s always an issue. But when (taxpayers) voted for the tax, there’s a certain expectation. Taxpayers have a right for that money to be spent that way,” she said. “It jeopardizes technology.”
VonBargen said a $10 million withdrawal wouldn’t deplete the E911 fund, but it would set a precedent.
“Every time we save money, they take it. We have no avenue to save,” she said. “It’s not going to cost (Whitcom) any money right now, but if they keep following this pattern, they’re really going to hurt us.”
Myers worries that if a large chunk of the E911 fund is diverted, it could result in a monetary loss for the county. A portion of the E911 fund is used each year to help pay for employee overtime and other projects such as replacing equipment.
“The state’s not worried about funding our projects, they’re worried about funding their own,” he said.
VonBargen said something will have to give if Whitcom’s budget is decreased.
“You find a way,” she said. “You can’t get rid of police officers.”
Myers said a local E911 tax which bills local cell phone users one tenth of one percent may help the area dispatch center stay afloat.
“The taxpayers supported us,” he said. “I think that will be our saving grace in this whole thing.”
VonBargen said an $11 million federal fund has been identified for radio interoperability projects. She suggests that money be used for the I-5 activity.
“We’re asking them to use that money and leave our funds alone,” she said.
“We just think there’s other places to find the money,” he said. “They have more pots over there (in Olympia) that aren’t so essential.”
VonBargen, Myers, county commissioners and other officials statewide are writing letters to legislators in an effort to keep the money allotted for updates to the state network. Local legislators will work to amend and adopt the budget.
“The money belongs to the state and they can do what they want with it,” VonBargen said. “But we’re hoping to stop it with the legislators.” So, this is Queen Christine’s idea of “shredding the Cascade Curtain?” Add this together with the Department of Ecology’s misbegotten stormwater runoff permitting, and I wonder why anyone in Eastern Washington would ever vote for a Democrat.