WENATCHEE — Emergency 911 is a crucial service, but it doesn’t come cheap.
To help pay for it, the Wenatchee Valley’s RiverCom system gets about $3.2 million a year from a simple sales tax in Chelan and Douglas counties. That tax is due to sunset this year, and RiverCom executive director Misty Viebrock wants voters to reauthorize it indefinitely in the August 2019 election.
“I am worried about what would happen if we didn’t continue to receive this funding,” says Viebrock, who was a longtime telecommunicator for RiverCom before taking over as director in January. “We are not alone in this. Nearly every county in the state of Washington has the one-tenth of 1 percent tax to offset the challenges of running a 911 center. We were one of only two counties in history, that I’m aware of, that sunsetted this tax.”
RiverCom’s telecommunicators take calls and dispatch resources from police and fire agencies throughout both counties. Since voters approved the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax in 2009, RiverCom has used the money for major equipment and facilities improvements.
If the tax is not renewed, Viebrock says, RiverCom won’t be able to keep up with changes in technology, and it will have a ripple effect on the response agencies — which share in part of the revenues to pay for their own communications gear.
“It has really benefited the public safety response as a whole, for fire, EMS and law enforcement.”
While keeping up with new tech, Viebrock hopes one day to create partner teams in RiverCom, with a dedicated calltaker teamed with a dispatch operator. Right now, the same telecommunicator receives a call, sends out resources, and communicates with callers, police and fire departments all at once.
Unlike the current tax, the reauthorization has no sunset provision. That means the RiverCom sales tax would be in effect indefinitely.
“The reason for that is that we don’t foresee any other long term-sustainable funding that is going to allow us to cont to improve our radio sites, keep up with the growth of Chelan and Douglas Counties. We have not changed our telecommunicator structure since 2004, and we have a need to increase some of the staffing out there.”
Jefferson Robbins: 679-7013