Puyallup inches toward membership with South Sound 911

Draft agreement points to 'inevitable' transition

Staff writerMarch 26, 2014 

The city of Puyallup is moving closer to permanent membership with South Sound 911, the regional dispatch system approved by voters in 2011 to connect a patchwork of emergency radio networks.

City Manager Bill McDonald presented details of a proposed participation agreement at a Puyallup City Council study session Tuesday night.

At the direction of the council, McDonald and city staff have worked with South Sound 911 officials to draft the proposal.

If approved as written, the agency would absorb Puyallup’s dispatch center, which city officials say has been a successful operation. 

Council members have long been concerned about the fate of their dispatchers should the city choose to join South Sound 911, something the draft agreement also addresses. It would “guarantee that each Puyallup dispatch center call receiver, dispatcher and records employee will be offered a similar position at a rate of pay and benefits commensurate with the positions they hold,” according to the proposed agreement.

The proposal also says existing assets would remain city property, but would be repaired and maintained by South Sound 911. The city also would be granted permanent positions on two agency boards. 

Puyallup residents are already paying higher taxes for South Sound 911 services, and the city is currently incorporated into the agency’s radio system. 

The city “has invested a considerable amount of money and effort over the past five years to keep pace with the requirements necessary for a modern and interoperable system,” according to a memo from McDonald. 

In April last year, the Puyallup City Council entered into a preliminary agreement with South Sound 911.

“A final outcome of this effort will be a more formal and permanent relationship between the City of Puyallup and South Sound 911 to include all options up to and including full membership,” McDonald’s memo says.

The story was much different three years ago, when the Puyallup City Council voiced its opposition to a new countywide tax to fund a standalone 911 agency. Then-Mayor Kathy Turner said Puyallup already had made millions in improvements to upgrade its own dispatch center,  and city residents essentially would be double-taxed.

The mood started to change after voters -- including those in Puyallup -- approved the  one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase in 2011.

The city manager said Tuesday that it's now in the city’s best interest to consider full membership.

“The bottom line is we are already in the game,” McDonald told the council. “We have a vested interest in seeing that it’s done right.”

Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter echoed those remarks.

“I think this is a good thing for the city of Puyallup,” Jeter said. “It would certainly enhance our services we are providing now.”

Council members all agreed, despite their personal feelings about the system. But some still expressed concerns about finances.

“I didn’t vote for it, I wish it didn’t pass,” Councilman Tom Swanson said. “But it does appear this is a path we need to be going forward on.” 

Swanson requested staff look at fees for South Sound 911 member cities, to gauge Puyallup’s potential financial obligation.

Councilman John Hopkins agreed more financial analysis is needed, but praised staff’s work on the process.

“We’ve worked slowly and deliberately and responsibly,” he said. “I think it is the right approach. I think we need to continue down this path.”

Fellow council member Julie Door agreed, adding that the city’s membership appears to be “inevitable.”

Mayor John Knutsen said he personally opposes the effort to join South Sound 911, but acknowledged that he represents residents who support it.

“Until I get a negative voice in my ear," he said, "I assume I’m going to have to follow their recommendations.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
Follow Kari on Twitter: @KariPlog

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