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The Benton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday took the first step toward sending a new taxing district to fund emergency dispatch services to the November ballot for voter approval.

Following a brief public hearing, the commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the boundaries and the name of the proposed district.

The Benton County 911 Emergency Communications Services County Service District would encompass all of Benton County except for North Albany, which is covered by dispatchers in Linn County.

A second public hearing will be needed to set the maximum permanent tax rate and refer the question of whether to create the new taxing district to the ballot. That hearing is scheduled for noon on Aug. 6 at the county boardrooms, 205 NW Fifth St. in Corvallis.

If approved by voters in November, the new service district would raise an estimated $3.7 million per year to fund additional staffing and equipment for the county’s 911 dispatch center.

Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman, who has championed the proposal, told the commissioners at Tuesday’s hearing that he has obtained letters or resolutions of support from the cities of Corvallis, Monroe, Philomath and Adair Village as well as rural fire protection districts operating in the county.

He also said the proposed district boundary has received preliminary approval from the state.

Corvallis City Councilor Andrew Struthers, one of two members of the public who testified in favor of the proposal, said he learned during a recent tour of the dispatch center that it is woefully underfunded.

“When I was there, there were only three dispatchers working,” he told the commissioners.

“It takes two dispatchers to manage a fire and medical call, which leaves only one dispatcher for any other calls that come in. That is not acceptable.”

The current annual budget for the dispatch center totals $2.7 million, most of which comes from the 10 law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services that use the center. That money pays for 17 dispatchers and one supervisor. Proponents of the service district say it would pay for 24 dispatchers and four supervisors.

No one testified against the proposal.

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All three commissioners wholeheartedly endorsed the proposed taxing district.

Pat Malone, a longtime volunteer firefighter and former chief of the Kings Valley Rural Fire Protection District, said the upgrade is long overdue.

“The system has been inadequate for quite awhile,” he said. “It’s time to get in with the 21st century and get a robust system that will serve the whole county well.”

Xan Augerot said the additional funding would enable the dispatch center to add a second radio frequency, allowing it to handle dispatching for more than one complex incident at a time.

And Annabelle Jaramillo said the improvements would position the county for the development of a regional dispatch network in the future.

“There is hope that someday we can make this an even broader and more effective entity,” she said, “but this is a great first step.”

While the resolution approved on Tuesday calls for a maximum property tax rate of 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, Sassaman has said he plans to use only 45 cents per thousand of that taxing authority initially. At that rate, the taxing district would cost the owner of a $350,000 home an additional $13.13 per month in property taxes. If the rate were to be raised to the full 65 cent limit, the property tax bill would rise to $18.96 per month.

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners:

• Approved a petition to rename Northeast Thousand Oak Drive (see story on this page).

• Authorized a conservation easement restricting development in a flood zone on property at 37926 Soap Creek Road to satisfy terms of a federal hazard mitigation grant.

• Accepted right of way for a portion of Zinfandel Lane in the Vineyard Mountain Road District for a public road.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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