After numerous failed attempts, Oregon legislators recognized the statewide significance of a bill that will increase the existing 75 cent fee on phone bills to support 911 dispatch centers.

The Oregon Senate passed House Bill 2449 by 22-5 on a busy June 30, the last day of the session. The bill, which passed in the House by 48-10 on June 6, was carried in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro.

This was not just a rural issue or an East-West bill, said Mark Spross, executive director of METCOM 911 in Woodburn. Skyrocketing costs and new communication technologies made the long-simmering need for increased funding evident across the state.

While support for the bill came from both sides of the aisle, from small rural communities to large metropolitan areas, many pointed to the work of Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, for introducing the bill and seeing it through.

“Rep. Findley deserves so much credit on carrying this bill all the way,” said Valerie Maynard, director of the Grant County Emergency Communications Agency. “He knew there was a funding deficit for this crucial emergency service, and he took the time to educate himself on all of the facts and pushed forward.”

“Findley did an amazing job,” said Margie Moulin, director of the Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon agency in Medford.

Moulin noted that the bill was first met with pessimism, as past attempts to shore up 911 funding had failed. Passage needed a big team effort, she said.

The latest legislative attempt to increase a tax that was last raised 24 years ago originated in John Day and from its city manager, Findley pointed out.

“Nick Green played a significant role in the creation of HB2449,” Findley told the Eagle. “The initial bill was his concept, and his testimony helped convey how critical the increase in funding is for communities all across the state.”

He also cited the support from a long list of cities, counties and first responder agencies and organizations. Passage of the bill was “truly a group effort,” Findley said.

“Without the support of all of the different public service answering points, the League of Oregon Cities, the Association of Oregon Counties, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, and the APCO/NENA (Association of Public-Safety Communication Officers and National Emergency Number Association), it’s doubtful that HB2449 would have made it through the Legislature,” Findley said.

Spross credited the bill’s sponsors in addition to Findley for the bill’s success: Republicans Ronald H. Noble, McMinnville, and Greg Smith, Heppner, and Democrats John Lively, Springfield, and Pam Marsh, Ashland, as well as Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, who chaired the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, which held the first hearings for the bill.

“I also want to thank Nick Green and Valerie Maynard,” Spross said.

As amended in the House, HB 2449 will increase the fee for wireless and wired telephone accounts and prepaid wireless retail transactions from 75 cents to $1 in 2020 and $1.25 in 2021.

That won’t be enough to address rising 911 costs, Spross said, but it was a critical first step.

“This will not cover us for the next 20 years,” he said. “We will need to find efficiencies or other resources.”

The Grant County Emergency Communications Agency was established last year by an intergovernmental agreement between the county, eight cities, one community and three rural fire districts under an Intergovernmental Council. The agency went into operation Jan. 1 and moved into the John Day Fire Hall in April.

Under a funding formula, costs not covered by revenue from the statewide phone tax will be distributed among local 911 users, including the sheriff, police and fire departments, government agencies and Blue Mountain Hospital, as well as the member jurisdictions.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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