ARTICLE: City Opts Out of Emergency Responder Radio District

East Oregonian  09/22/2009

City opts out of emergency responder radio district
Other communities in county ready to join 450 megahertz system

Reporter: Samantha Bates

The Milton-Freewater City Council decided Sept. 14 not to join the 450 megahertz radio district being proposed for police, ambulances, fire departments and other emergency responders in Umatilla and Morrow Counties.

Milton-Freewater is the only city in Umatilla and Morrow Counties to opt out. Athena was originally against it, but later changed its mind and passed a resolution to join.

City Manager Linda Hall said Milton-Freewater often has more contact with College Place or Walla Walla when it comes to help with police, fire and paramedics. Hall said the city has also made numerous upgrades to its own system.

The city council was also concerned with costs of upgrade and operations and maintenance. In the end, they weren’t convinced a 17-cent per $1,000 assessed value tax would cover it.

“We have to be very cautious about every decision we make,” Hall said. “My dad always tells me, the cheapest price on a horse is the purchase price. It’s the maintenance and upkeep on things that can kill ya.”

Mike Roxbury, Umatilla Fire Chief and chairman of the bi-county 450 megahertz communication system board, came in July to answer the council’s questions about the radio system. He said it would allow all agencies in the county to talk and work together.

Nonetheless, Roxbury said in a July interview that “Milton’s got a compelling argument.” He noted, it’s geographically isolated, doesn’t have much interaction with the county during emergencies and the city has its own system.

“We’ve always controlled our own destiny,” said Councilor Brad Humbert in an August work session. “We’ve always been up here in the north end of the county and they’ve kind of ignored us. They kind of continue to take and take and take, even when we don’t have very much to give ’em. We’ve always found a way to keep control of our own destiny. And when you let go of that, you become a pawn. You’re doing whatever they say. What happens if they don’t come through?”