The effort to form a 911 emergency services taxing district for Benton County is in the home stretch.
The Benton County Board Commissioners will hold public hearings at its July 16 and Aug. 6 meetings to nail down the final actions required to put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.
If approved by the voters, the district would raise approximately $3.7 million per year that will pay for additional staffers and equipment for the 911 operations.
This district includes all 14 law enforcement, fire and rural fire agencies in the county with the exception of those in North Albany. Calls from North Albany are handled by dispatchers in Linn County.
Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman, who is spearheading the effort to form the district, had to receive commitments from all of the districts to make the plan work.
The Benton County 911 center currently has a budget that pays for 17 employees. The new district, if approved, would pay for 24 dispatchers and four supervisors. The tax rate for the new district is 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, but Sassaman said he plans to start by using just 45 cents of it. Having the 65-cent limit is seen as a way to help make it easier for the district to grow with the population. The aim of the new district is to improve response times.
Sassaman gave a presentation Wednesday on plans for the district before a joint work session of the Corvallis City Council and the Board of Commissioners. One of the goals of the session was to provide information to the four new councilors and one new commissioner.
All three commissioners were on hand as well as six of the councilors. Also in attendance were Curtis Wright and retired Corvallis Fire Chief Roy Emery, who will be running the political action committee that will be working to get the district approved by the voters.
In his 60-minute briefing Sassaman emphasized the challenges the current dispatch system faces. Some are a function of growth – more calls for service are coming into the center. Technology also plays a role because it is harder for a dispatcher to identify where an incident is occurring from a cellphone caller than from a land line.
“Cell calls take three times as long to handle because we don’t know where you’re at,” Sassaman said.
The national standard for call response is for the agency to have a first-responder on the way within 60 seconds of the call 90% of the time. As recently as 2006 the county was at 93%. In 2018 it was 71%.
“Seconds count,” Sassaman said, “and we’re grossly behind now.”
At the July 16 public hearing the Board of Commissioners are scheduled to act on forming the district, establishing its boundary and giving it a name.
At the Aug. 6 meeting the board will set the tax rate and send the issue to the voters.
A rate of 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value means that a homeowner with property assessed at $350,000 will pay approximately $13 per month.