Cencom is 'out of room'
June 11, 2008 · Updated 10:55 AM
"Operations in Cencom are growing cramped as equipment and lines multiply to handle growing volumes of 911 calls. Control panels and wires fill every spare room and desks are wedged into corners. Halls are turned into offices to maximize space. Right now, we're out of room, said Cencom Director Ron McAffee. In 1996, voters rejected a levy to purchase new equipment and move to a new building. McAffee attributed the ballot defeat to fear of an increase in property taxes before Cencom explored other funding options.Since that time, we've been doing everything we can possibly do to maximize our money, he said.After finding alternative funding to enhance existing equipment, Cencom officials hope the public might be more willing to pass a levy for a new building.Cencom would need about $5 million to construct and outfit a new center with enough built-in room for growth. They already own land behind the Bremerton National Guard's Readiness Training Center. It's a perfect site, McAffee said. What we need is ... a funding source, he said.Besides being cramped, Cencom was built prior to current seismic codes. It has a high probability of partial collapse during a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, which would cripple its ability to dispatch emergency crews to other areas of the county.Seismic upgrades are not feasible, McAffee said, because the building sits on a landfill. In an earthquake, that's a dangerous place to be, he said. After the levy failed, Cencom administrators shifted gears from purchasing new, top-of-the-line equipment to simply upgrading existing systems.We've leveraged our resources and lowered our sites to enhancing existing systems, he said.But even that had a cost: We have no future capital funding to fix things that break. We're hoping nothing breaks for awhile, McAffee said.In addition to capital needs and upgrades, Cencom's annual operations costs are rising at a rate of about 6 percent, McAffee said. Cost, unfortunately, is passed on to user agencies because there is no other funding source, he said.Cencom would prefer to pay for a new facility through a one-tenth of 1 percent local option sales tax rather than compelling police and fire agencies to pay more, McAffee said.Cencom received a $6.3 million bond loan from the county to pay for upgrades, including installing five new radio towers and improving existing ones with back-up systems in place.There are a number of areas in the county where coverage is not so good, McAffee said.Upgrades will make the radio transmission system smarter, too: if the system is busy or blocked one way, the transmission will automatically turn around and go the other way. It will enhance coverage and provide for system redundancy, McAffee said. If we lose this tower out here, we lose communication with 65 percent of the county.In addition, Cencom will use part of the $6.3 million to upgrade its emergency 911 system, which automatically displays phone numbers and addresses with each call. The units Cencom currently uses are about 18 years old, McAffee said. They don't make parts for them anymore. We need new ones.In fact, McAfee said, Cencom has found a way to fund just about everything. The only thing we haven't figured out a way to fund without going back to the taxpayer is a new facility, he said."