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King County Seeks Emergency-Radio Upgrade With Tax Levy

Replacement parts for King County's emergency radio system won't be available after 2018, County Council member Joe McDermott says.
Flickr Photo/Bryan Jones (CC-BY-NC-ND)
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Replacement parts for King County's emergency radio system won't be available after 2018, County Council member Joe McDermott says.

King County's aging emergency radio system is facing crunch time: After 2018, replacement components won't be available.

So the county is proposing a replacement and asking voters to pay for it in a special election April 28. Boosting the existing property-tax levy would generate an estimated $273 million to pay for the upgrade, the county says.

Firefighters, police or paramedics responding to a crisis depend on reliable radios. Seattle’s new fire chief, Harold Scoggins, pointed to the communication problems that hampered first responders’ efforts during the 9-11 attacks.

“Communication is the key to problem solving,” Scoggins said. “You have to be able to talk to people, to those around you, and those around the county, because that way you can kind of triage what’s going on, you can set a plan of action, and you can move resources you need to solve the problem.”

King County’s emergency radio system was designed in 1992. Council member Joe McDermott said the system is so old that replacement parts and components will no longer be available after 2018. The county is stockpiling some of those now, he said, “but how long we can do that and be successful become questionable after 2018.”

If approved, the new levy would take effect next year. It would cost the owner of a $375,000 home about $27 a year for the next nine years.

McDermott says the council decided to put the question before voters this spring because it takes time to plan, build and transition to a new system.

“Doing it in April gives us the fallback position of the primary ballot if we were not to be successful in April," he said. "And it’s imperative that we can start planning on building the system as soon as possible.”

Year started with KUOW: 1994