Bill That Could Restructure Spokane Emergency Communications Passes Senate, House

Apr 6, 2021

A Spokane region dispatcher works at the dispatch facility.
Credit Courtesy Spokane County

A bill that would force Spokane County to negotiate with the city of Spokane on how emergency communications are funded has now passed both chambers of the Washington legislature.

The bill follows a longstanding conflict between Spokane County and the City of Spokane over which government oversees the region’s 9-1-1 dispatch response.

That system is funded through a 2017 sales tax which created an entity called the Spokane Regional Emergency Communications. That group was meant to consolidate all 9-1-1 dispatchers under one agency.

When it was passed the county was just under the 500,000-population threshold needed to meet the requirement of negotiating with cities in its jurisdiction on how that money should be spent. The bill, which is sponsored by Spokane Democrat Marcus Riccelli, would require counties that now meet that threshold to negotiate with cities with a population of under 50,000

“I’m not aware of a single instance where that requirement for a city and county to negotiate such an interlocal agreement in good faith has caused any negative consequences,” Riccelli said during a January committee briefing. “That’s all that bill seeks to do.”

The Spokane City Council has argued that being forced to join the regional system may not make their constituents safer. Opponents say the bill will allow the city to take its share of sales tax away from the regional group, gutting its ability to pay for a 911 response.

Bryan Collins, the Spokane Valley Fire Chief and chair of the regional 9-1-1 response group said regionalization makes the system better.

“Every one of these entities that is a partner in the regional system recognizes that to go out separately would mean higher cost to the taxpayers, duplication of equipment and services and would result in a less coordinated emergency services response,” Collins said. “This is not good public policy.”

A version of this bill that has been amended several times has passed both chambers, but has not yet made it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.