ARTICLE: Radio District Takes Another Step Forward

East Oregonian   12/30/2009

Radio district takes another step forward
Umatilla, Morrow counties seek voter approval for taxes

By SAMANTHA BATES The East Oregonian

What will be called the Umatilla Morrow Radio and Data District is a step closer to becoming a reality.

On Dec. 16 Morrow County held its first public meeting and on Tuesday Umatilla County held its first public meeting – both needed steps toward officially forming a taxing district.

The district will allow the counties to keep using the 450-megahertz radio system put in place by the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program and Federal Emergency Management Agency. To keep the system going, the counties are forming districts to tax property owners 17 cents per $1,000 assessed value.

In May, the counties will ask taxpayers to approve the district, vote for five board members and approve the tax. Each item will require a separate vote, said Doug Olsen, attorney for Umatilla County.

At this first meeting, Umatilla County approved the boundaries of the district, which include all of the county except anything within the city limits of Milton-Freewater and within the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Both places’ governing boards opted out of the district. Tuesday was the deadline to opt into or out of the district, Olsen said.

At Morrow County’s first meeting the judges put off any decision-making until their next court session. The judges said they wanted to wait and see what Umatilla County did first.

Umatilla County will hold a second meeting on Jan. 20. At the public meetings people can speak for or against the forming of the district. A second meeting date for Morrow County has not been set.

Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty said he believed the reasons for forming the district are as valid today as they were when efforts started a year ago.

“If we don’t proceed as proposed in a timely fashion to get this job done, then we will have a crisis,” Doherty said. “We’ll have a huge communications responsibility without a means to provide that very important service.”

Also, even if operations at the Umatilla Chemical Depot finish later than expected, the tax district can choose to take only what it needs. The radio system will keep getting federal money until the depot finishes its work, but once it’s done, the funding stops. That’s when supporters of the district hope the tax will take over.

“We want to be ready for when that funding goes away, to continue to support the system,” Jim Stearns, Umatilla County emergency manager, said.