John Day City Manager Nick Green is calling for comprehensive 911 tax reform as well as a special appropriation to bridge fund the city’s emergency dispatch center.
Bridge funding the 911 center with additional short-term funding from the state would provide relief for local taxpayers while the city and county can evaluate the feasibility of maintaining the facility.
To 72-year-old Long Creek resident Nancy Morgan, having a reliable dispatch center is a matter of life and death. The Long Creek volunteer ambulance team has saved her life on multiple occasions after she’s called 911.
“It gives me piece of mind and a secure feeling to know that we can pick up the phone, call 911 and they will be here,” Morgan said.
Green said the emergency dispatch center costs local taxpayers roughly $200,000 a year to operate, and the city is spending a massive chunk of its revenue to continue providing emergency response services for the entire county — funds that could be used for improving infrastructure or attracting new residents.
John Day spends a higher percentage of its property tax revenue on public safety than any other city in Oregon, Green said — nearly three times the percentage Bend spends on public safety.
The current 911 tax collects 75 cents a month from all landlines and cell phones and distributes the funds to dispatch centers based on number of connections they serve.
Green said, for the current 911 tax level to fully fund the John Day Dispatch Center, Grant County would need to increase from 7,185 residents to 64,667.
Green appealed to state Rep. Cliff Bentz during a Jan. 24 John Day City Council meeting to help secure funding. Bentz said this was a common problem in rural communities, but it was the first he had heard about it in Grant County. He pledged to work toward acquiring funding sources for the dispatch center.
“John Day is now in its third straight decade of population and economic decline,” Green wrote in a memo to Bentz. “The inability to diversify our economy into new frontiers combined with state tax policies that disenfranchise rural communities, has resulted in structural failure to our economy from which we cannot recover.”
He said there are two Oregons, both with their own problems: the east, characterized by inadequate infrastructure, population decline and dependence on outside subsidies, and the west, characterized by congestion, soaring housing prices and hyper-urbanization. Green is calling for tax reform that will work for smaller, rural communities.
John Day is the home of the only dispatch center in Grant County. It serves 4,529 square miles, including 1.8 million acres of public land frequented by hunters and tourists.
Green said the minimum cost of staffing the facility year-round is $445,000. The 911 tax provided $248,982 in fiscal year 2015. This left the city, county and other tax jurisdictions to come up with roughly $196,000 to fund the dispatch center.
Tax reform designating the dispatch center as “mission essential” and fully funding the center would allow the almost $200,000 of county taxpayer dollars spent on the center to be spent on infrastructure projects to improve the community and attract more people, Green said.
• second lowest median household income in Oregon at $32,614 per household.
• highest unemployment rate in the state at 8 percent.
• tied with Harney County for highest suicide rate in the state with 32 per 100,000 people.
• behavorial crime rate 35 percent higher than state average with DUII rate 116 percent higher and liquor law violations 138 percent higher.
Information from John Day City Manager Nick Green.