Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Consolidated dispatch soon a reality?

Ketchum allocates $304,000 to make consolidation plan work


Express Staff Writers

Funding is in place, a memorandum of understanding is pending county approval next week, and a consolidated emergency 911 dispatch center in Blaine County could become reality as early as Dec. 15.

County Administrator Mike McNees and Director of Blaine County Emergency Communications Bob Greenlaw announced to the Blaine County Commission Tuesday morning that the Ketchum City Council had approved a portion of the funding that will make consolidated dispatch in Blaine County a reality. It's a feat that has eluded a succession of valley leaders for years.

Greenlaw said McNees was largely responsible for the success.

"He made it happen," Greenlaw said. "He rolled up his sleeves and made it happen."

McNees asked that a cooperative agreement that would merge the Ketchum and Blaine County dispatch centers be placed on the County Commission's Tuesday, Dec. 11, meeting agenda.

"It's pretty much ready to go," McNees said. "It seems like we have a green light."

The dispatch center will be located at the Blaine County Sheriff's Office until a new public safety facility is completed on Airport Way in Hailey sometime later next year.

Following a half-hour discussion in open meeting and then an executive session, the Ketchum City Council agreed to put $304,000 in the county's coffers for consolidated dispatch. That amount will fund the transfer of Ketchum employees at the county for the rest of the fiscal year and will include salaries, benefits and training expenses.

Ketchum's allocation included $154,624 that it did not spend in its year-to-date dispatch center budget, as well as $85,000 from its contract for services budget and $85,376 from its contingency budget.

"We haven't asked for anything from the city of Ketchum other than the bare minimum," McNees said.

The issue was complicated, however, because Ketchum employees are being switched over to county employment. By making the move this month no job positions will be cut. Ketchum's six employees and the county's nine employees will be combined for a staff of 15. Ketchum dispatchers were concerned, however, about whether they will be granted the sick leave and vacation days they have accrued.

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle who worked as a Ketchum dispatcher in the 1980s said the job is "95 percent boredom and 5 percent terror." During the Castle Rock Fire "they were there with us all along, working extra shifts and behind the scenes. It really is a thankless job."

Councilman Ron Parsons said, "It's just lame" that the city had not informed the employees about how the transition would work. He reiterated that the employees would be "made whole," meaning they would be paid for vacation days and sick time they've earned.

The fact that Ketchum officials voted to help fund the costly transition to consolidated dispatch was due to the cooperative spirit between all parties involved in the negotiations, Greenlaw said.

He added that the agreeable spirit of the negotiations also produced a memorandum of understanding that will protect the interests of the Ketchum dispatchers who will soon become Blaine County employees under the new consolidated dispatch.

He said the plan "will make sure their employees are whole when they leave the city."

The Ketchum leaders "really stepped up to the plate last night," he said.

Consolidation of dispatch centers is another step in the ongoing process of putting a new jail, sheriff's office and dispatch center under one roof. That will happen at a new public safety facility, scheduled to open by fall 2008.

Seventy-six percent of Blaine County voters lent their approval in February 2007 to issuing $10.46 million in bonds to fund the public safety facility.

Of the approximately 1,400 people who turned out at the polls, 1,056 voted in favor of the bond issue, and 337 voted against it.

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