ARTICLE: Council Endorses CSEPP Radio System Plan

East Oregonian & Hermiston Herald 12/23/2008

Council endorses CSEPP radio system plan
By Eric Florip

When the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility ceases operations – which the Army expects to happen in 2013 – it will bring an end to funding for a 450 MHz radio system fire and law enforcement agencies use across Umatilla and Morrow counties.

One of those is the Hermiston Police Department. It, like several others, would like to see the system stay once the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, or CSEPP, ends and federal funding dries up.

The Hermiston City Council formally endorsed that goal Monday, voting unanimously to support creation of a special taxing district to keep the system intact after CSEPP.

Hermiston Police Chief Dan Coulombe and City Manager Ed Brookshier both said the taxing district is the most feasible and logical option toward that end. The proposed tax rate to support the radio system would likely be 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, possibly less.

Reverting back to the old system Hermiston police and others used before CSEPP would create plenty of problems, Coulombe said. Among them would be keeping up with changing federal bandwidth requirements for public safety radio systems, which the old VHF system couldn’t meet.

“The old system’s really not a viable option,” Coulombe said.

Mayor Bob Severson agreed, noting he’d also like to see the 450 MHz system maintained.

“If we don’t,” he said, “we’ll be going back to the dark ages.”

But creating a special tax district requires several steps, Coulombe said. First, local agencies need authorization from the state Legislature – a goal proponents of the idea plan to pursue in 2009, he said. Umatilla and Morrow counties have already formed a bi-county 450 MHz Communications System Board that will likely be a key player in that process, he added.

Once that happens, voters from both counties would have to approve the creation of the district.

In other business, the council awarded bids for two Hermiston contractors to start work at the future site of a Pioneer Hi-Bred seed production plant in Hermiston. JDZ Construction will receive $146,935.69 for utilities construction, and Granite Northwest, Inc., netted $160,340 for street work at the site. Brookshier said the bids came in at just over half of what the city expected, costing considerably less than estimated.

The council awarded the bids by a unanimous vote.