Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dispatch parties see end in sight

Some believe funding plan is almost there

Express Staff Writer

Following a meeting in Hailey last week, a solution to a dispute about paying for Blaine County's emergency dispatchers' salaries seemed close at hand.

Then again, we've been here before.

Departing from the Old Blaine County Courthouse on Friday, county and city officials seemed in a particularly generous mood, and could even be seen thanking one another for their earnest efforts.

Such an outcome was perhaps a little surprising given the heated bickering that's gone on since Hailey and Bellevue leaders announced that they couldn't help fund dispatcher salaries at the county's new consolidated dispatch center because of significant revenue shortfalls.

In the months since their initial refusal, Hailey and Bellevue officials reluctantly agreed to contribute a portion of the amount the county had requested to help fund the salaries of 12 to 13 dispatchers, but only for the 2009 fiscal year. Left hanging was the question of how the estimated $835,000 annual price tag would be paid after that.

It was near the end of Friday's nearly eight-hour meeting when Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman spoke out in an effort to reframe the debate. He offered that the county would fund the salaries of the eight dispatchers needed to provide coverage for emergency 911 calls only.

In exchange for that assurance, Bowman asked that the rest of the dispatch funding partners—Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue and the Wood River Fire and Rescue and Carey Rural fire departments—decide what if any extra administrative-style dispatch services they want.

"Beyond that it becomes a user-based model," he said.

The more non-emergency services the users ask for, the closer they'll come to the original 12 to 13 dispatchers envisioned, Bowman implied. An example of the kind of administrative services that go beyond taking emergency calls could include running license plate numbers during traffic stops.

Having the issue framed in that light seemed to simplify the discussion for many of the meeting's participants, including Hailey City Councilwoman Carol Brown.

"I would seriously like to discuss this," Brown said. "Thank you for your leadership."

In the end, it was left to Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich to characterize the increasingly hopeful tone of the meeting.

"I think this is a big manure pile, but there may be a pony under there," Willich said.

County and city leaders remain hopeful that they will be able to agree on a final funding plan at their next meeting at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 16.

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