Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dispatch deal nearly done

Agreement specifies what emergency dispatch services will be provided in 2009

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission agreed Tuesday to an agreement that sets forth how the dispatching of emergency calls in the county will be managed during the 2009 fiscal year, which began Monday, Oct. 1.

The agreement defines the terms of service for the county's new consolidated dispatch center through Sept. 30, 2009. To be implemented, it will require signatures from officials in Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and the Carey Rural Fire and Rescue and Wood River Fire and Rescue districts.

The agreement is the result of more than a month of heated talks between county and Hailey officials over who should pay to fund the salaries of dispatchers working at the county's new consolidated dispatch center. The dispatch funding issue came to a head after Hailey City Council members approved the city's tentative budget for 2009 earlier this summer and it didn't include funding for the new consolidated dispatch system.

But under a proposed dispatch funding strategy developed in recent weeks by county officials, 12 dispatchers would be hired to staff the new Blaine County dispatch center during 2009. Blaine County Administrator Mike McNees said the tentative agreement asks the cities of Hailey and Bellevue to come up with additional funds so the twelfth dispatcher can be hired.

Having 12 dispatchers would allow for a third dispatcher to be on shift during what's been called the "power shift" on Fridays and Saturdays when the highest call volumes typically take place, he said.

In the tentative agreement approved by the County Commission on Tuesday, the amount each city must pay to hire that additional dispatcher is laid out. It requires Bellevue to contribute $13,600 and Hailey $64,700.

That's roughly a quarter of the amount each city had been asked to contribute to help fund dispatch. County leaders have said they will pick up the remaining share of the funding that Hailey and Bellevue leaders have said they cannot provide.

Back in July, county officials agreed to a request from Hailey leaders to have county voters consider a property tax levy override this November to pay for dispatcher salaries. In response, the Hailey City Council shifted course slightly by agreeing to provide $60,000 for dispatcher salaries in the city's 2009 budget.

Whether Hailey officials will agree to increase their share of the dispatch funding by $4,700 remains to be seen.

If approved by the necessary two-thirds majority, the levy override would begin paying for dispatcher salaries in 2010. The override would raise $835,000 per year, which would allow the county to fully staff the consolidated dispatch center with 13 employees at the start of the 2010 fiscal year, McNees said.

Another unknown is how officials from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley will react to the new agreement. Those cities have already pledged to contribute their full share of the dispatch funding for the 2009 fiscal year—$249,481 for Ketchum and $104,514 for Sun Valley—amounts that were identified by a 911 users group earlier this year.

The two cities pledged their full share anticipating that county would hire 13 dispatchers for the new consolidated dispatch center.

On Tuesday, McNees expressed his appreciation to officials from Ketchum and Sun Valley for their continued involvement, despite the lowering of service Hailey and Bellevue's budget constraints are causing for the dispatch system.

"I think everybody realizes we need to get through this first year," he said.

Because Hailey and Bellevue leaders have said they cannot provide their full share of the dispatch funding, the county will only be providing initial emergency dispatch services to the two cities and will not be able to provide them with back-up administrative services like running license plate numbers.

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