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Deschutes County sends 911 levy to May ballot

By Joe Burns
Published On: Feb 25 2013 08:37:47 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 25 2013 09:32:58 PM CST

Deschutes County voters will now decide whether or not a tax levy for 911 services will stay in place. You'll hear from first responders about the importance of keeping it.

BEND, Ore. -

Deschutes County residents could see a big impact on 911 services, if a levy is not renewed.

County commissioners voted Monday to put the issue before voters on the May ballot.

Sheriff Larry Blanton says this levy on the ballot will be the most important law enforcement issue put before county voters this year, and for years to come. (Coincidentally, Blanton later headed to Mt. Bachelor to oversee the successful search for two missing snowmobilers -- a search that began with a family member's call to 911.)

Now it's up to voters to decide.

County dispatchers receive, on average, about 825 calls every day, or a call every 57 seconds.

"From the moment someone picks up the phone, or we pick up the phone, we are providing life-saving medical instructions for people," said county 911 Director Rob Poirier.  

In 2011 alone, dispatchers answered more than 300,000 calls for service.

"That service we provide is that immediate patient care that we are giving," Poirier said. "We all know that it's those seconds that save lives, and that's what we are most proud of."

But it's that service that soon could be impacted.
 
"I just can't stress the importance of without this service our ability to provide emergency services in Deschutes County is going to be compromised," said Bend Police Chief Jeff Sales.

Voters last approved a levy in 2008, at a time when 911 was still residing in the sheriff's office and the county had grown fast.  

"We needed a new facility," Poirier said. "We needed additional staffing and a lot of technology that goes along with that."

The measure had overwhelming support and passed in nearly every precinct in the county. Since then, 911 has moved into a new, larger facility it shares with Oregon State Police.

"It's just made us a more efficient place to do business," Poirier said. "We are just hoping that we can continue to receive that same level of funding."

The funding though runs out at the end of June, unless voters decide to renew it, at the same property tax rate.

"You can talk about the need for additional public safety, additional education, additional economic vitality," Blanton said. "Without this very basic service for all citizens of Deschutes County in the emergency management phase of answering a phone when anyone calls, we take huge steps backwards."

Some people just don't like increases in taxes, and though this doesn't raise rates, there's still a challenge for those seeking to convince voters to support it.

Voters won't be seeing any increase in their current taxes. It would remain the same rate it has been for the past five years, 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

To give you an example of just how much money Deschutes County property owners pay for the service: If you own a $200,000 home, it costs you $46 a year.

"it's vital, it's crucial," Blanton said. "It's an absolute must for this upcoming May 21st."

County 911 services receive about 10 percent of funding from the state, but it's not enough to run the day-to-day operations. The levy provides almost half of its operating budget and the rest is from a permanent tax.

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