South Sound’s 911’s board voted Wednesday to accept Puyallup as a full member, appearing to end the city’s status as the last holdout from the regional emergency dispatch system.
Board Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said Puyallup’s membership will mean a cohesive and more effective system.
“I think it’s a really good move forward for both South Sound 911 and Puyallup,” said McDonald, a Pierce County Councilwoman from Puyallup.
Adding Pierce County’s third-largest city requires one more step: Governing bodies for all six member agencies — including the Puyallup City Council — must approve. That process could take up to 60 days, said Andrew Neiditz, executive director of South Sound 911.
Neiditz said he believes all six boards will support Puyallup’s membership.
Puyallup Mayor John Knutsen said it’s “very unlikely” the Puyallup City Council will vote against granting final approval.
Knutsen opposes the agreement. He said Puyallup has already rebuilt its system and that joining the regional effort “will change intercommunication very little.”
The addition of Puyallup’s dispatch operations means police departments for Puyallup and the city’s contract agencies, Sumner and Bonney Lake, will be part of the countywide system.
“The whole region benefits by there not being a gap in the middle,” Neiditz said.
South Sound 911 is the agency working to build an upgraded radio system for emergency responders that will comply with federal standards for “narrow-banding” and replace a patchwork of incompatible systems.
In November 2011, Pierce County voters approved raising the sales tax by a penny on every $10 purchase to help build a cohesive radio network and new dispatch center.
Member agencies of South Sound 911 are: Pierce County, the city of Tacoma, the city of Lakewood, the city of Fife, and West Pierce Fire & Rescue.
The agreement with Puyallup resulted after more than a year of negotiations.
The Puyallup City Council approved the document May 20 by a 5-2 vote. Knutsen and Councilman Steve Vermillion voted no.
“I felt that it would eventually be more money for less service,” Knutsen said Wednesday.
Neiditz said Puyallup will spend less on dispatch services because of its membership. South Sound 911 will reimburse the city up to $1.25 million for new portable and mobile radios, according to the agreement.
Puyallup’s call receivers, dispatchers and records employees will be offered similar positions with similar pay and benefits.
The unified system isn’t expected to be operating fully until 2016 when a new South Sound 911 communications center is scheduled to be built. Until then, Puyallup’s dispatch center will operate as a satellite facility for its two contract agencies.
Puyallup has made gradual steps toward full membership. The City Council and the South Sound 911 Policy Board approved an initial agreement in April 2013. Before then, Puyallup had resisted the regional system, citing investments in its own dispatch center.