EMS communications issue headed to ballot

County departments planning moves to new buildings


Wahkiakum County voters will be asked to approve a boost to the local sales tax in an issue approved Tuesday for this November's general election.

The tax would generate funds for improvements and maintenance of the radio system serving a variety of county organizations, from the sheriff's office and emergency services to Wahkiakum PUD and school buses.

The tax would be 2/10 of 1 percent, or 20 cents per $100 spent. Estimated collection would be $130,000 per year.

Sheriff's department officers commented that the current system has holes in which radio communication breaks down, creating unsafe conditions for officers and interrupting efficient response to situations.

The current system depends on a variety of towers and repeaters, Sheriff Mark Howie said. A deputy responding from one end of the county to the other might have to change channels several times in transit, and dispatchers often have to relay communication between officers in different areas.

During a public hearing, several speakers supported the measure.

Engineer Bob Consentino described improvements made during a widespread pipeline project in which he was involved.

"We did a similar upgrade; it was like going from The Flintstones to The Jetsons."

"I solidly support the small increase in sales tax for this," said longtime ham radio enthusiast Steve Hart. "We've got to upgrade."

At the close of the public hearing, commissioners quickly voted to submit the issue to voters.

Also Tuesday, county department heads proposed moving offices to consolidate services and address space needs.

After long discussion, commissioners asked department heads and their staff to develop a detailed plan.

Health & Human Services Department Director Chris Bischoff got the ball rolling. The department has three main locations--in the Courthouse Annex, in the Hope Center near Cathlamet schools, and in the Elochoman Valley. He proposed vacating the annex and consolidating those offices in the Elochoman campus and in the Hope Center.

In turn, the sheriff's department could move some of its offices into the annex, and by leaving its offices in the back of the Hanigan Building, free space for other needs such as archive storage.

Other department heads said they, too, had space needs, and they pointed out problems with the potential moves--sheriff's office security protocols and ADA codes would make it difficult to have convenient access to archives and record storage.


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