CORVALLIS — Benton County voters issued a strong vote of support for upgrading emergency dispatch service last Tuesday night.
County voters passed Measure 2-124 by a comfortable 60.97% to 39.03% margin, according to unofficial returns from the Benton County Elections Office.
When the results hit the county website, it set off a brief celebration at a large table at the downtown Corvallis American Dream pizza outlet, where supporters were gathered. It was high-fives all around and whoops and hollering from all concerned.
“I’m really please, this is a very good margin,” said Curtis Wright, who co-chaired the campaign committee with retired Corvallis Fire Chief Roy Emery. “I’m really pleased that people saw the importance of a 911 system that can respond as fast as possible.”
Issues with response time fueled the bid, led by Corvallis Police Chief Jonathan Sassaman, to form the taxing district that will help pay for more dispatchers and equipment.
“It gives us funding stability for the next 20 years, and it allows the dispatch center to keep up with technological changes, Emery said.
The new district will be paid for with property tax increases and will allow the current dispatch center at the law enforcement building in Corvallis to increase from 17 employees to 28.
Approval of the measure positively impacts Philomath’s police budget. City Manager Chris Workman said that this fiscal year, the city budgeted $180,610 for what the expected contributions would be to the current 911 center. A formula that takes into account how much an entity used the dispatch center the previous year calculates the annual charge.
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“Next year, it sounds like starting in July with the next fiscal year, we won’t have that expense because it’ll be picked up by the property taxes for the new district,” Workman said. “That’ll be $180,000 that doesn’t get allocated to 911 dispatch.”
District backers say the increase is critical to improving countywide emergency response.
The industry standard for emergency dispatch service is to get first responders en route to a call within 60 seconds 90% of the time.
The Corvallis dispatch center was as high as 94% more than a decade ago, but in recent years its rate has been as low as 66%. The number was 71% in 2018.
Sassaman was on the road for big chunks of 2019, persuading other law enforcement and fire districts to join the proposed district. Besides the Philomath Police Department, others from the immediate area that will be part of the new district include Philomath Fire & Rescue, Blodgett Rural Fire Protection District, Hoskins Kings Valley Rural Fire Protection District, Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Alsea Rural Fire Protection District, among others.
There were three pages of information in the Benton County voters’ pamphlet from individuals and groups backing Measure 2-124. Included were the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and firefighter unions. No one submitted arguments against the measure.
The vote seems a clear mandate for the approach of local governmental entities to go to the voters to pay for needed services. Benton County almost assuredly will be coming back to the ballot, perhaps as soon as 2022, with a measure to pay for a new jail — and perhaps a courthouse as well.