Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dropping the dispatch ball

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of discontent expressed on how to pay for the new "enhanced" version of 911 installed at the new jail facility. Rather than contributions from the combined entities that had to have the bloated mess of technology that could most likely handle a population double what we have, as always, the property taxpayer will get the privilege.

Let me shed some light on the real problem. The County Commission failed in large respect by trying to be the nice-guy mediator instead of policy leader. About 12 years ago, a lobbying group was formed and became known as the Emergency Users Association. Comprised of fire chiefs, police chiefs, at least one retired county commissioner and a city manager or two, they needed a common goal and that became "how to extract the 911 effort that was working quite well under the guidance of the county sheriff's department and turn it into the expensive behemoth that it has become."

Ketchum, which had its own bloated dispatch system, never wanted to join with the sheriff and allow him to cover Ketchum's needs because his budget couldn't afford to absorb all of Ketchum's dispatch employees, and the system was deemed just not good enough for their citizens.

The county, in trying to democratize the process, bought into the idea presented by the users association of a five-member committee composed of a county commissioner, the sheriff, a police chief, a fire chief and a city government rep. Politicians in every entity joined in giving up their policy-decision responsibilities to their hired "experts." That committee eventually created what we have today: an expensive, overstaffed, technologically swamped E911 system that does no more for the public than its predecessor.


It would take stronger backbones than are likely available but another option for the County Commission is to use its authority to repossess the system and downsize it so that it functions as needed, instead of fulfilling the desires of non-elected fire officials whose operating manuals demand that we prepare for all catastrophes regardless of the odds against their happening.

The property tax well has been over-visited too many times to cover up mistakes and overspending on the local level, most recently in the ambulance district. By November elections, the recession that this country is experiencing should be pinching people's money supply hard enough that they may begin asking why our officials don't figure out how to pay for something before they buy it, and before that, do we really need it in the first place?

Dennis Wright


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