OLYMPIA – The Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to include a ballot measure in the November 5 general election to ask voters to approve or reject the authorization to increase the sales and use tax for emergency communication systems and facilities from one-tenth of one percent to the rate of two-tenths of one percent. This is an increase of one cent on a ten-dollar taxable purchase.
The purpose of the increase is to provide funding for TCOMM 911 to replace its 40-year-old analog public safety radio system it currently uses with a digital radio system.
Thurston 9-1-1 communication officials said the upgrade would provide more capability for first responders to communicate with each other and provide more effective services to citizens.
“After the Amtrak train derailment in December 2017, there were multiple state and county agencies responding to the incident, including Thurston County. Because Thurston County uses an analog communications system that isn’t compatible with the digital communications system being used by other first responders, someone had to monitor both radio systems and relay critical information between the responding entities,” said Keith Flewelling, Executive Director to TCOMM 911. “This created a gap in our ability to quickly coordinate response efforts in a fast-evolving situation. Upgrading our communications system will help address gaps like these in the future.”
The replacement system will address capacity, coverage and interoperable communications problems experienced with the current analog system. Every first responder agency in the county, including all city and county fire districts, use the TCOMM 911 radio system, while other agencies around the state and in neighboring counties are currently using digital radio systems. Replacing the system is expected to be a multimillion-dollar project.
Thurston County enacted the original one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax in 2002. The tax funds emergency communications through TCOMM 911, which includes 9-1-1 call processing, dispatch services, and the public safety radio system for all public safety responders in the county.
A recent change in state law provides new authority, if approved by voters, to generate additional funding for emergency communications projects and address increases in ongoing operations and maintenance costs for emergency communications. The law was modified by the 2019 Legislature and permits counties to ask voters for no more than two-tenths of one percent in sales tax for emergency communications.
TCOMM 911 answers and processes all 9-1-1 calls in Thurston County. The agency is also responsible for dispatching all public safety responders in the county, except for the Washington State Patrol. These services operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.