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GOP support is strong for 911 tax

Image of dispatchers at work via Umatilla County website.

SALEM, Oregon – The 911 tax on telephones was instituted in 1991 at 75 cents, and it’s never increased. Now, a bill is moving through the Oregon Legislature that would double that tax for land lines and cell phones over time. Sponsors say it’s a vital move to make sure the state’s emergency systems can keep pace with technology.

House Bill 2449 is now before the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee after passing the House of Representatives. Two of the measure’s main sponsors are Rep. Lynn Findley (R-Ontario) and Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner). A dozen Republicans in the lower house voted in favor of it. Ten, including Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) voted against it.

Keeping apace with technology isn’t the only reason that area law enforcement support the tax. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts says it’s also important to remember that more emergency dispatchers are always needed, and personnel costs never go down.

“Any additional dollars that can be received, quite frankly, pale in comparison to the overall need to provide services and public safety globally, throughout communities all over Oregon,” he said.

In Umatilla County, almost all law enforcement agencies utilize the 911 service operated by the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office. The two exceptions are the Milton-Freewater Police Department and the Umatilla Tribal Police Department. The funding those subscribing agencies would receive from the 911 taxes go straight to the county.

In addition, police departments who utilize the county service pay additional money to utilize the service. Roberts says he doesn’t know if this measure will prompt the sheriff’s office to lower the amount local law enforcement must pay annually.

“I would certainly hope it does,” he said. “We turn over our allocated 911 funds annually to the county. In addition to that, we pay a fee based on the assessed value, in the low $300,000 range.”

Rep. Findley’s office says it’s up to the individual 911 centers to determine how the additional dollars are used if the measure is successful. The only qualification in the bill is that they must be used for operations.

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