Commissioners pass phone tax increase

Clallam County commissioners passed a 70-cent excise tax on phone lines on Sept. 28 to support PenCom, the county's emergency dispatch system.

Voting 2-1, with Commissioner Mike Chapman the dissenter, the commissioners increased the tax by 20 cents per month, which will generate an estimated $188,000 in revenue for the service.

The county collected a 25-cent excise tax starting in 1994, which increased to 50 cents in 2002.

PenCom, which is operated by the Port Angeles Police Department, handles 9-1-1 calls and emergency dispatching for Sequim, Port Angeles and the county.

If the county commissioners did not increase the tax, PenCom no longer would be eligible for statewide services, which includes the 9-1-1 database network and training, according to a staff report by Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher.

"It's not unusual for the state to say we'll help out if you take some initiative locally," Commissioner Steve Tharinger said.

Tharinger said the increase was necessary to ensure the system got the necessary upgrades.

"Obviously, it's always difficult to increase a tax," he said. "But 9-1-1 services are very, very important and I think to be able to upgrade our system we need these dollars from the state."

Clallam County receives almost $469,000 a year for enhanced 9-1-1 network, database and language line services from state funds, Port Angeles city officials said in a resolution supporting the tax increase.

The revenue will allow PenCom to move forward with Next Generation 9-1-1, a modernization effort that Gallagher called "both necessary and wise," in the report.

Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett said the city council passed a resolution at the Sept. 13 meeting in support of the tax increase.

"It will benefit us because that regional agency will have the funding to improve service in Sequim and other areas," he said.

Tharinger said PenCom has been dipping into reserves to avoid increasing user fees, which are administered to participating jurisdictions based on the number of calls they field.

"(PenCom) was running out of reserves but we talked to PenCom and said we'll increase this tax if you cut some of your spending and keep the user fees low," he said.

The PenCom advisory committee has received agreements from participating jurisdictions to form a governing body so the users of the service have a vote on fee structures and management, Tharinger said.

"I think that's a huge step forward and will get us a more collaborative effort," he said.

Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequim

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