The 7-year-old Umatilla Morrow Radio & Data District, tasked with keeping emergency services in touch with one another, could be in for a major shake-up in the May special election.
Rick Stokoe, Boardman police chief, is challenging Position 2 incumbent Kathy Lieuallen, Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office communications manager. And Loren Dieter, lieutenant with the Boardman Police Department, is looking to oust Mike Roxbury from the Position 1 seat. Roxbury is a Umatilla city councilor and the former chief of the Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District,
Wins by the challengers would boost the board’s Morrow County members to four, with Mark Pratt, Boardman police sergeant and Ken Matlack, the Morrow County sheriff already on the board. Keith Kennedy, Umatilla police lieutenant, would be the lone member from Umatilla County.
Voters approved the district in 2010 to make sure police, fire and ambulance services in the two counties — excluding Milton-Freewater — can communicate with each other. The district maintains relays and antennas, for example, and provides agencies with emergency radios. Stokoe said while he has heard some people are concerned with a “Morrow County takeover,” the district directors stand for the whole and not for either county. He said it is akin to his service as one of the five commissioners for the Port of Morrow, who are representatives of the entire county and not any one city or community.
The real issue in the election, he said, is about having a board that makes wise financial choices with limited funds to ensure reliable emergency communications, which he stressed is vital to public safety.
The district budget is a little over $2 million and employs a director, an administrative/technical assistant and a communications technician, all for about $329,000. District resources include $181,000 in state grants and about $100,000 in various payments and user fees. The biggest chunk of the budget — about $1 million — comes from property taxes with a rate of 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
“That’s not a lot of money for a system of that kind,” Stokoe said, so the district directors must be frugal.
He questioned that frugality at the board’s meeting on March 17, when members and director Shawn Halsey discussed options to replace the aging Motorola radios the district uses. The company no longer makes them and is ending its support for the system.
Stokoe, who attends most of the board’s meetings, according to the minutes, asked the board about the costs of replacing the radio system. Stokoe said no one could provide an answer.
Halsey, the minutes state, said the cost would depend on the vendor, and Stokoe told the board “to spend the tax payer’s money correctly and to know the amount the system will cost before making a decision.”
Stokoe said that was frustrating for him, and he also wants to bring his 27 years of public safety work to bear on the issue of emergency communication, as well as his military experience in that area. He added he also has experience working with public budgets.
Dieter, too, said he has a fiscally conservative attitude and replacing the radios is the major question the board must answer.
“It’s time to upgrade our system and look into the future,” he said, and doing that means considering all options.
Stokoe said he has the support of several law enforcement agencies in the two counties, and Dieter said he might take to Facebook to help generate votes. Both also said they are relying on word-of-mouth and have not decided if they are going to go door-to-door to ask for votes.
Lieuallen nor Roxbury returned messages Thursday. ———
Contact Phil Wright at email@example.com or 541-966-0833.