April may not seem like an election month, but in Washington, it’s actually one of two times during the year when local jurisdictions may schedule special elections, most often for the purpose of sending the voters a levy for their consideration.
This year, the nine-member King County Council has opted to place a proposition on the April 2015 special election ballot to address a crucial need: the aging of the region’s emergency public safety radio network.
The unfortunately-numbered King County Proposition #1 (identical in character to many past propositions that have appeared on ballots in prior years) would slightly increase property taxes to allow the county to replace critical communications equipment used by first responders that is at the end of its useful life.
Courtesy of the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign, here are some basic facts about the levy that every King County voter ought to know:
- A YES vote for Proposition 1, the Emergency Public Safety Radio Network Replacement Project, will allow King County to replace our dangerously outdated emergency radio network system that police, firefighters, Medic One and emergency first responders all use to answer emergency calls.
- The current emergency radio network is decades old, has dangerous gaps in coverage in populated areas and was designed to serve a much smaller area. This puts the public and first responders at risk. It needs to be replaced.
- The current network was designed in 1992 to serve King County’s smaller population. Over the years, our population has steadily increased and residents are living in areas they didn’t before, which creates coverage challenges for the current network..
- The improved network will provide essential equipment our first responders need to communicate during life-threatening emergencies. Without this network, public safety will be at risk.
- A yes vote would replace radios used by first responders to communicate during crises, upgrade equipment in King County’s 9–1‑1 call centers, increase reliability, and provide greater coverage for radio communications.
- When callers dial 9–1‑1, operators use the radio network system to ensure that local emergency responders are sent to the callers’ correct location.
- Our communities are safer when our emergency personnel have reliable tools.The emergency radio network is used daily. It is a critical tool that is used by fire, police and EMS to do their jobs on every call, every day.
- The improved network will be available to city, district, and county first responders – expanding coverage across all of King County.
- The levy will only be collected long enough to pay for the project – nine years at most. It will cost the average homeowner just over $2/month to fund this network. A nominal fee for the added safety and security it will provide to all King County residents.
King County Proposition #1 enjoys strong support from mayors, fire commissioners and law enforcement chiefs across King County as well as county elected leaders, including eight of nine councilmembers, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Sheriff John Urquhart.
There is no active campaign opposing Proposition #1, but representatives of King County Fire Commissioners’ Association have weighed in against the levy due to concerns that passage of the levy could negatively affect rural fire districts’ ability to maintain staffing and service levels in the event of an economic downturn. The ordinance adopted by the county acknowledges as much (PDF):
Statement of Facts
- If the funding measure is put on the ballot and approved by the voters, fire districts’ levies may be reduced and services diminished.
- The King County council finds that any reduction in fire district staff or services resulting from the PSERN levy would be contrary to the public interest. This funding proposal is intended to address concerns about prorationing of fire district levies during the term of the proposed levy.
Fire commissioners Mark Thompson and James A. Fossos are concerned that the language of Section 5 of the ordinance do not go far enough to protect rural fire districts. In their statement against Proposition 1, they write:
If property values drop, fire districts could possibly be in a negative financial position and need to lay off fire fighters during the nine year term of the PSERN (radio system) levy.
Laying off firefighters is unacceptable, especially when a comprehensive prorationing protection plan could have been implemented by the County Executive to stave off any possible staffing reductions by impacted fire districts.
While we would like to see the county do more to protect rural fire districts, Proposition #1 deserves our support. Rejection of this levy would prevent the county from getting started on replacing its share of our region’s crumbling emergency radio network. That would be a bad outcome.
Rural firefighters can’t do their jobs very well if they cannot reliably communicate with each other and their chiefs. Recognizing this fact, many fire commissioners have endorsed Proposition #1 in spite of the concerns expressed by Thompson and Fossos, and we at NPI join them in urging a yes vote.
Ballots for the April 28th, 2015 special election have been mailed by King County Elections. Please vote yes on Proposition #1 and ensure your ballot is postmarked by April 28th or deposited in a drop box by 8 PM that same day.
Voters who would like more information about the project that the levy would fund should call or email David Mendel, Emergency Radio System Project Director. He can be reached at 206–263-7942 or david (dot) mendel (at) kingcounty (dot) gov.