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Spokane leaders urge voters to extend sales tax funding 911 service

UPDATED: THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 2017, 2:52 P.M.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl speaks Wednesday about how a local sales tax instituted in 2008 has enhanced communication among emergency agencies. Also appearing at the news conference is Mayor David Condon,  Spokane Interim Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer,  Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins, among others. (KIP HILL/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl speaks Wednesday about how a local sales tax instituted in 2008 has enhanced communication among emergency agencies. Also appearing at the news conference is Mayor David Condon, Spokane Interim Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins, among others. (KIP HILL/The Spokesman-Review)

First responders and elected leaders in Spokane are urging voters to approve in April the extension of a sales tax they say will keep the emergency communication system from falling into disrepair.

“Without this funding, there are many things that we can no longer do,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich at a news conference Wednesday.

Ballots will drop in Spokane County mailboxes early next month asking voters to renew a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to fund the maintenance and expansion of emergency communications, including the Crime Check service, through 2028.

Knezovich and Spokane Mayor David Condon said renewal of the tax is necessary to continue upgrading the system, which only recently – as a result of the tax revenue – enabled members of different agencies to speak to each other during emergencies.

“Sometimes a call for help means a response from the fire department, or the police department, but no matter what, it is critical that we have the infrastructure to support that,” Condon said.

The tax, which City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear stressed is one cent of a $10 purchase, was first approved by voters in 2008 with 66 percent of the vote. It has become the largest source of funding for Spokane County’s Crime Check service, a nonemergency line to report crimes.

Kinnear said it was important to maintain Crime Check, which receives 65 percent of its funding from the sales tax revenue, so that law enforcement can determine where to deploy officers to deter crime.

“We use it to gather data, especially on property crime,” Kinnear said.

Knezovich said the funding is key to ensure the county continues to keep up with mandated improvements to its 911 system, eventually enabling residents to text emergency responders or send still photos and videos with their smartphones. That will improve safety for the public as well as law enforcement officers, he said.

“They can see what they’re actually going into,” Knezovich said. “These are the things that are coming, and it’s not a choice if we want to do this, it’s mandated.”

Spokane County is working toward installing a system of enhanced 911 service to meet new federal standards, said Lorlee Mizell, 911 Emergency Communications director. The sales tax revenue would be used to continue those efforts, as the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies work toward establishing when those standards would take effect.

“We’ve made great strides since 2008,” said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl. “As technology advances, there are more options available that will help keep our community safer as well.”

Ballots will be delivered to voters throughout Spokane County by April 10. They are due to the county auditor’s office by April 25. City voters will also be asked to extend a property tax levy to continue funding services at Spokane public libraries.



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