Transit left at the altar by CenCom
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:24 AM
"There were a number of reasons public safety agencies declined to join Kitsap Transit in seeking a sales tax increase in May, but the bottom line was the bottom line, said CenCom executive director Ron McAffee.The policy board of Kitsap County Central Communications, or CenCom, just wasn't comfortable with combining the two entities in a ballot issue, McAffee said. The board includes representatives from all the public safety agencies in the county and elected officials.It didn't provide a long-term funding solution for a public safety communications system, he added.McAffee said CenCom was looking for a way not only to repair the current system and replace a woefully inadequate facility, but also provide for ongoing maintenance and inevitable salary increases for employees.Kitsap Transit's proposal for a three-tenths of one percent sales tax increase would have generated an estimated $13 million. Part would have gone to public safety for four years to build a new public safety-Kitsap Transit communications network. After four years, the one-tenth would have reverted to KT for gradual service expansion.Passage of the proposed excise tax would have allowed KT to restore many cuts in service that resulted from the defeat last September of a proposed three-tenths of one percent sales tax increase.Kitsap Transit lost about $10.2 million with the passage of Initiative 695, which repealed the motor vehicle excise tax.The one-tenth would have allowed CenCom to build an 800-megahertz trunked system, The Cadillac of communications systems, said McAffee.Public safety's current VHF radio system is in dire need of improvement because it's old and parts are no longer manufactured to repair it, he said. CenCom also needs a new building, at a possible cost of $8 million.While public safety doesn't have the authority to pursue a tax, We've been trying to convince (the Legislature) for the past five years to give us legislative authority for a one tenth of one percent initiative to bring back to the voters, said McAffee.Voters rejected an $18 million property tax levy, with about $12 million earmarked for a new system, in 1996. McAffee told the public safety board that taxpayers wanted the burden distributed over a wider base so it wouldn't be so hard on property owners.Public safety currently is using a telecommunications tax to pay back an old bond. If it could get a one-tenth sales tax passed, it could borrow enough to build a new system and facility, McAffee said.CenCom officials are keeping an eye on House Bill 1477, which would give counties the ability to impose taxes for emergency communications systems and facilities, with voter approval.The bill was heard Wednesday by the House Finance Committee, said Erica Waller, an aide to state Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District. Three steps remain before the bill would reach the House floor for a vote, after which the process would start all over again in the Senate.Meanwhile, Kitsap Transit is regrouping, going back to where we started out, with a proposed two- or three-tenths of one percent sales tax, said executive director Richard Hayes.The transit board plans to schedule a meeting to determine which avenue to pursue, he said. They actually initiated the discussion. They came to us and wanted us to consider the combined tax, he said.The two entities have been working together toward a combined communication system for 14 years, Hayes noted.They're like a runaway bride ... It started looking better for them to get the one-tenth of a percent on a continuing basis, so they figuratively jilted Transit, he said.We lost a month in the courtship dance, Hayes added. Transit has to submit wording for the May 15 ballot proposal to the county auditor by March 31.Collaboration with CenCom on a communications system is still a possibility.It's not a divorce, just a short-term separation, Hayes said.Hopefully the systems will be more parallel than combined. We can share a lot of the central system. And we certainly can share a lot of the towers, which are the biggest expense, he said. "