Wednesday, January 5, 2005

E-911 to be running by March

Express Staff Writer

It's been more than two years since Blaine County voters approved a $1 telephone line surcharge to pay for implementation of emergency 911 services, but the payoff is right around the corner.

Blaine County leaders on Monday, Jan. 3 took a definitive step toward implementation of E-911 services when they approved a $1.2 million budget for the Blaine County Communications Center Board to purchase equipment needed for the transition. The new equipment will link the county's two dispatch centers and enable dispatchers to identify the names and addresses of people who dial 911.

"Once the equipment is on site, it could be up and running in eight to 12 weeks, probably by March," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, one of five members of the communications center board.

In approving the expenditure, the Blaine County Commission also allowed the communications center board to borrow $750,000 from the sheriff's drug forfeiture trust fund. The money will be repaid when a lease-purchase agreement is finalized with Ascente Financial. The county must enter into a lease-purchase agreement because it has only $550,000 in the E-911 fund that has been building from the local telephone tax.

"That allows us to get it here, and get it on board now," said Blaine County Commission Chairman Dennis Wright.

Ketchum Fire Chief Greg Schwab, another member of the communications center board, said this is a crucial first step toward total implementation of E-911.

"This fills the commitment to the voters for timely dispatch services Schwab said.

Schwab said the next step in the phased implementation of E-911 would be to purchase computer software that will enable police and fire officers to access map, address and telephone databases in their vehicles. Installation of cellular telephone identification equipment will occur sometime this summer.

"This is what all of the EMS people have been working on for a number of years," Femling said. "To see it operational in eight to 12 weeks is, I think, exciting for all of us."

The final phase will be to consolidate the county's dispatch centers, now located in Ketchum and at the sheriff's office in Hailey, under one roof.

In a November advisory election, Blaine County voters approved a conceptual plan to build a new sheriff's office, jail and consolidated dispatch center. The probable location for such a facility would be on a county-owned property near Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.

The five-member Blaine County Communications Center Board has been meeting since November 2003. Since it formed, it contracted with Minneapolis, Minn.-based GeoCom to catalogue Blaine County's streets and addresses for a central E-911 database.

FeoCom's work was funded by the $1-per-month tax on telephone lines that was approved by county voters in November 2002 for the express purpose of establishing an E-911 system.

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