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CenCom board considers tax levy for new building

"CenCom's policy board might ask voters to approve an $8 million bond levy for construction of a new emergency dispatch facility.CenCom currently dispatches emergency services from a former Warren Avenue Bridge toll booth, but officials are hoping to build newer, safer and more seismically stable digs. During a special April 3 meeting, Kitsap County fire chiefs and fire commissioners recommended that the CenCom board ask the County Commissioners to place a bond levy on the Sept. 18 ballot. The commissioners are the only elected officials who can approve sending such a measure to the electorate.The 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake added a sense of urgency to the quest for a new building.The earthquake was a wake-up call for us, said CenCom director Ron McAffee of the Feb. 28 temblor. We can't afford to wait any longer.The CenCom building sustained several new cracks during the quake, McAffee said. The facility's steel doors, placed in concrete-block casings, won't close any more, although engineers have determined the structure is safe enough to occupy for now.The CenCom board asked McAffee to provide a cost estimate and more information on the proposed new headquarters, which could be located on a 3.5-acre parcel in West Bremerton, up the hill from the auto center complex. I was really worried when the earthquake hit, said Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen. The employees there deserve a safe place to work. In addition to that, employees there are in cramped quarters because the facility hasn't grown along with the county.In 1996, voters said no to an $18.5 million bond levy measure for a new headquarters, as well as an 800-megahertz trunked radio system. The message from property owners at that time was that everyone uses 911, not just homeowners, said McAffee. So we went back to the drawing board to come up with another plan.McAffee said officials have asked the state Legislature to allow agencies like CenCom to request sales taxes for such projects, but to no success. For the fifth year in a row, that bill died in the Legislature. A tentative agreement between Kitsap Transit and CenCom officials to issue a joint measure in May also broke down. CenCom already has committed more than $6 million toward updating its radio system by borrowing against 911 telephone taxes over the next two decades. I believe it will be an acceptable radio system for the next 10 to 20 years, said McAffee. We won't be getting the 800 megahertz trunked radio, but at least we can update the one we have. "

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