The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday approved sending to the voters on April 28 a nine-year, $273 million property tax levy lid lift proposal to raise revenue needed to replace the County’s aging emergency radio system.
Police, fire and emergency responders of all kinds in jurisdictions throughout the county rely on the radio system to do their jobs, to communicate during emergency incidents and natural disasters like earthquakes, flooding, landslides and wind storms. But the system on which all these entities and personnel lean is 20 years old, and given recent population growth and the countless advances in technology since 1995, the system is showing its gray hairs.
Last year, King County’s systems provider, the Motorola Company, told county officials that after 2018, it would no longer support any equipment that constitutes the system.
If approved by voters, the levy lid lift would be levied at a rate of not more than $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed value. The levy is projected to generate $273 million in revenues. Based on the 2015 median home value in King County, the cost to the median homeowner would be $26.46 per year.
“The impact for a medium-priced home will be under $30 a year. The bang voters get for their buck is that we are looking at a system that is 20 years old and is reaching the end of its current useful life,” said Al Sanders, communications specialist for King County. “This will upgrade the current system, and it will make it a little more efficient because, naturally, there will be new equipment with it. It will also have a little more range. As one of the persons who testified today said we do have dropoffs in the radio system. This new system should help alleviate that issue.”
The Puget Sound Emergency Radio Network (PSERN), officials say, should provide more reliable coverage and capacity, allowing first responders to communicate better during emergencies.
In addition to new equipment, King County has talked about replacing today’s multiple networks with a single network, thereby putting all the groups now taking advantage of King County’s Valley Com under one umbrella for the establishment, implementation and operation of the network.
The Auburn City Council in December unanimously approved the City’s participation in the new PSERN, authorizing Mayor Nancy Backus to negotiate and execute interlocal agreements with King County and with the cities of Bellevue, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila.
Two boards would be in charge of the nonprofit that runs the network: an administrative board, made up of mayors and the chief executive officers of the cities; and a technical board, constituted of police and fire chiefs and other user groups.
The proceeds of the levy would go toward the capital, financing, and other costs associated with the replacement project.
Today’s system consists of 26 transmitter sites and multiple interconnecting microwave and fiber systems that support more than 100 agencies and approximately 16,000 radio users, each with a portable radio handset and/or installed mobile radio in a vehicle. It was designed to serve a smaller population over a smaller area when it went online.