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Voters should approve 911 bond measure

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that it’s almost election time.

In this case, we’re not talking about the presidential election, but rather our local elections.

And if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that local elections often feature local governments asking for more of our hard-earned money.

In this case, we’re talking about a bond measure to support Washington County’s emergency communications system, a measure that will appear on ballots due to be mailed to voters on April 27. The $77 million measure is officially known as Washington County Emergency Communications System Bond Measure 34-243.

In brief, the Washington County Emergency Communications System is our area’s 911 system. It is the mechanism that allows our county’s emergency calls to be transmitted and answered, and for the people who answer those calls to dispatch first responders across Washington County to address all kinds of emergencies.

Supporters of this bond measure say that the county’s 911 system is in need of repair and updating. Specifically, they say that the system’s communications equipment is nearing the end of its serviceable life, that its buildings and towers need updating to deal with continuing growth in Washington County, as well as strengthening to prepare them for eventualities such as earthquakes or other hazards.

The measure, if passed by county voters, would do the following: convert the existing system to current technology; improve countywide coverage by installing more towers; strengthen facilities to help them survive earthquakes, storms and other emergencies; provide for efficient expansion of the 911 center and emergency response facilities; and replace approximately 3,000 analog radios currently used by first responders countywide.

Here’s the cost of Measure 34-243. The sale of bonds related to the measure will raise $77 million in capital costs for emergency and 911 facilities. That total would translate to a projected levy rate not expected to exceed 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. At that rate, the estimated cost for owners of an average county home with an assessed value of $255,408 would be $20 in the first year. The levy period would be for less than 21 years, and given potential changes in bond interest rates and assessed values, it is possible that the bonds could be completely paid sooner than estimated.

For those in our county living on fixed incomes, living close to the edge financially or just struggling in the current economy, extra expenses always hurt and we sympathize with that. But that additional $20 a year will help Washington County better serve those very people when they need help the most.

So now to the $64,000 question — or in this case, the $77 million question — is Measure 34-243 worth it?

In our view, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

Washington County grew by more than 4 percent from 2010 to 2015 — an increase that equated to the addition of another small city (almost 13,000 people) — and that growth is almost certain to continue and escalate in coming years.

Oregon itself is expected to grow by more than 37 percent by 2050 — from nearly 4 million today to an expected 5.5 million 34 years from now — and much of that growth is projected to occur in Washington County. According to estimates from Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis, our county will grow from its current population of about 321,000,000 to almost 900,000,000 in 2050.

While it’s hard to imagine what a Washington County with an additional half million people might look like, even if you disbelieve those estimates, this much is clear — growth is happening here, it will continue to happen here and it will likely happen with increasing speed over time.

Though there are often areas of government we might rather not fund, our emergency communications system is not among them, especially not in what is expected to be an era of explosive growth.