CenCom county funding formula agreement closer

A new funding formula for Kitsap County Central Communications (CenCom) is one step closer to becoming a reality after years of discussion.

The CenCom’s governing board approved a new funding plan last week and the plan is now on its way to the agencies that participate in CenCom for consideration.

Known as Kitsap County’s 911 system, CenCom offers 911 services to 13 law enforcement agencies and fire departments in the county including Kitsap County Sheriff’s office, Port Orchard, Bremerton, Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island police and fire departments. In past years, the agencies have paid for 911 services using a formula that took into account the assessed property value and area population of each individual participating agency.

But in 2010, the CenCom governing board changed the formula and based it on the number of calls each agency had. Agencies have also paid a $50,000 minimum to participate in CenCom.

Under the revised formula, some agencies like Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and the Bainbridge Island Police Department saw reductions in their bills from CenCom. Others, such as Port Gamble, had to pay more.

Such changes led to difficult negotiations on how to fund the 911 agency that has an $8 million annual budget. Member agencies such as the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe disagreed with what they termed an expensive minimum at $50,000.

In October 2011, the Tribe sent a letter to the governing board and Kitsap County Commissioners asking for a review of the funding changes.

Richard Kirton, director for CenCom, said that the board discussed the $50,000 minimum many times and that in a final vote, the board opted to take it out.

“The overwhelming feeling for most of the board was that the parties to the interlocal have been contributing since (CenCom) began and that the minimum wasn’t necessary any longer,” he said.

The new plan includes only the $5,000 annual fee for each participating agency and a funding plan that is based on the amount of time a police call takes as compared to a fire call, and averages each agency’s calls for service load from the previous three years to determine exact annual fees.

It also calls for other agencies that want to join CenCom to contract with CenCom by negotiating individual contracts. They could be subject to the $50,000 minimum payment.

This is the first CenCom board-approved funding contract in years. In 1993 revisions to the original 1976 funding contract were approved. But since then, no agreements have been made.

Kirton said he was pleased with the agreement.

“We discussed many options and we feel we reached an agreement that we can all live by,” he said.

In order for the new formula to go forward, governing bodies of each member agency of CenCom will have to approve the funding formula, Kirton said. He said the Bremerton City Council has already approved the agreement and he anticipates the others will within the next month.

Al Townsend, Police Chief for the Port Orchard Police Department, said he was extremely pleased with the formula adopted by the policy board.

“We worked for well over a year to examine options and possibilities with the intent to find a system that was fair to every agency that uses CenCom for their dispatching services,” said Townsend. “We believe the formula that was approved by the CenCom Policy Board does just that.

“When the dust settled on the creation of this formula some agency costs went up and some went down. But the old days where there was supplementing and supplanting by some agencies no longer exists. The new formula creates a fair system where each agency pays for the portion of service that they use.”

Townsend said no agency can get the level of service that CenCom provides for the reasonable costs each pays by going out on their own.

“Port Orchard, for example, would be paying five to 10 times the amount we do if we had to operate our own dispatch center,” he said. “CenCom is made up of very professional and well trained individuals who provide a critical public safety service to all residents of Kitsap County.”

While Jeromy Sullivan, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Chairman was not available Wednesday for comment on the new funding formula, Kirton said he had spoken with representatives of the Port Gamble Tribe.

“Their attorney has indicated that the tribe will support this,” he said. “The tribe was the main force behind getting rid of the $50,000 minimum and I think they will be happy with the final decision.”


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