"Transit, CenCom might collaborate on sales tax levy"
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:22 AM
"There's an old saying that there is strength in numbers.Kitsap Transit is considering testing that theory with a three-tenths of 1 percent combined sales tax increase proposal it might take to voters May 15. Kitsap voters rejected a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase in the Sept. 19 primary election. That tax increase would have restored $7.5 million of the $10.2 million KT lost when the motor vehicle excise tax was repealed.Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes introduced the ballot proposal as an information item at the agency's Feb. 6 board of commissioners meeting.We're looking at going for three-tenths with a specific amount dedicated to developing a new CenCom system for communications, Hayes told the transit commissioners. We have to replace our radio system, so we said, 'Let's do this, get one radio system for the entire county, police, fire, emergency and transportation.He said KT's system was quite outdated, it's pushing 20 years old now at least.CenCom's microwave communication system is also at capacity and sorely needs replacing or updating, according to Hayes.The proposed sales tax would kill two tough old communications birds with one stone. For the next four years and four months, one-tenth of the three-tenths increase would go toward building the combined public safety-Kitsap Transit radio network.That would generate $13 million. After the four-plus years, the one-tenth of 1 percent would revert back to KT for gradual service expansion, Hayes said.Even with three-tenths it would not make up for the lost funding, but it would go a long way, he said.The public safety/transit radio system would be a true digital trunked system modeled after Portland's Combined Area system. The $13 million provides for the core system plus mobile units and breaks down to:* $8 million to build the core (now in the design phase).* $3 million to fund/finance mobile units.* $1 million to begin replacement reserve.* $1 million for contingencies.Although some CenCom members have yet to hear details, Director Ron McAffee is enthusiastic about it.Obviously I'm for (the combined tax), he said. CenCom has been trying to get its system fixed for the last nine years. In 1996 we ran an $18 million property tax levy, with about $12 million earmarked to put in an 800 megahertz system. It was state of the art then, still is, said McAffee. The citizens told us 'no' at that time on the property tax. They told us to find another way, he added.CenCom's VHF radio system is in dire need of improvement, because it's old and manufacturers discontinued making parts to repair it more than eight years ago, McAffee added.We literally advertise with colleagues nationwide to ask if anyone anywhere has torn down their system and kept the parts, and if we can have them, McAffee said.Improving the system sat on CenCom's back burner until Kitsap Transit presented their idea.When Kitsap Transit came to us and said, 'you have needs, and we have needs, why not partner this?' it was a natural, McAffee said.KT service development director John Clauson said transit's system is 14 years old and parts are no longer being made for it. We're faced with the need for a new radio system and we also need additional capacity, he said.Creating a combined system with CenCom also would give both entities a possible 11-channel system.The county departments of Public Works and Emergency Management also might join the partnership, McAffee noted.Police and fire agencies are still waiting to hear particulars about the combined public safety measure and how it would benefit them. Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer was cautiously optimistic about it.I'm interested in exploring the option as there is a definite need to address the CenCom communications system, because it's beyond its peak capacity at this time, Boyer said.Coupling the cost for the communications system to Kitsap Transit's two-tenths tax levy proposal could be a good way to help both systems.I believe an efficient transportation system is important to the economic vitality of the region, he added. So I'd be very interested in establishing a dialog that might be beneficial to the community. "