Friday, December 19, 2008

City leaders scuffle over dispatch

Absence of Ketchum mayor riles some at Tuesday dispatch funding meeting

Express Staff Writer

Randy Hall

In a night of fiery exchanges over who should fund the salaries and benefits of emergency dispatchers at the county's new consolidated dispatch center, the notable absence of one of the funding partners generated the most heat.

As at a meeting on Dec. 5, the city of Ketchum didn't send an elected official to attend a meeting held at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey on Tuesday. By all appearances, the most incensed by Ketchum's notable absence was Hailey City Councilman Fritz Haemmerle.

"It's very problematic," Haemmerle said. "They're a major player."

Trying to soothe the situation was Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, the county's point person on the dispatch funding disagreement. She told representatives from Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue and the Wood River Fire & Rescue and Carey Rural fire departments that the city of Ketchum and Mayor Randy Hall don't want them to conclude that their absence means they don't want to participate. She said she had been in touch with Hall by e-mail this week, but didn't offer a reason for why he couldn't attend.

"He and the city of Ketchum want to be involved," she said.

But Haemmerle was having none of it. He predicted little could be done to find a solution that everyone agrees to without one of the funding partners being involved in the talks. He said a future meeting in which Ketchum was absent would be a waste of everyone else's time.

"It seems like everybody has to be there," he said.

On Wednesday, Hall seemed perturbed by Haemmerle's pointed remarks about his absence. He noted that he had to miss the Dec. 5 meeting because his wife had given birth to their child the day before, which was a week earlier than the expected due date.

As for this week's meeting, Hall said he didn't learn that it had been scheduled until two days before, at 8:15 p.m. on Sunday. He said that by that point, it was too late for him to change his work schedule, which had him on shift at the St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

"I work for a living," he said.

Hall said it's also not fair to claim there was no one from Ketchum present at the meeting, as he had his fire chief and interim police chief attending. He said he was upset to hear about the "drama" Haemmerle injected into the meeting.

"I don't understand how that can be constructive," he said. "I don't know why he's so upset."

Hall was present during the first of the meetings between the cities and the county in November. There, the mayor's active participation appeared to help keep the meeting moving along.

Once the participants moved beyond the issue of Ketchum's absence, they got down to the business of trying to find an equitable funding solution. McCleary announced that county commissioners had agreed to fund the salaries and benefits of six dispatchers, the number they say is needed to cover all incoming emergency 911 calls. The county also offered to pay another $70,000 to cover the leases for the center's emergency radio equipment.

The county's offer to fund the more than $470,000 price tag for the six dispatchers and the equipment leases would cover nearly half of the estimated cost for all of the center's 13 dispatchers, a staffing level the county says must be in place for their offer to stand. As part of the deal put forth by the county, they asked that the other dispatch users come up with the remaining $500,000 to fund the additional dispatchers, who would cover incoming non-emergency, administrative calls.

This offer seemed to especially please Haemmerle, who thanked the county for its efforts. Still, he said Hailey remains concerned that the offer means the county wouldn't be shouldering any of the costs for administrative calls.

"It seems fair that the county should share a portion of the non-emergency dispatch calls," he said.

But McCleary noted that only 15 percent of calls are emergency calls, so the county's offer to pay nearly half the total dispatch salaries more than covers the emergency calls and much of the load of administrative calls.

Blaine County Administrator Mike McNees said the county could have simply offered to calculate its share by paying the 15 percent of total salary costs linked to emergency calls and then its portion of the administrative calls, which would mean a much smaller figure,.

"The commission went with the scenario that raised their number," McNees said.

Sun Valley and Ketchum leaders have both made it abundantly clear that in the future, they feel Hailey will need to contribute more funds than it agreed to for fiscal 2009, less than $70,000. For the city that's the biggest user of the dispatch system to only pay that amount is unfair, both Hall and Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich have said. Until this year, the county had provided dispatch services to Hailey for free.

That needs to change, Hall said in an interview.

"They need to figure out some way to pay their share or the county needs to cut them off," he said. "They need to come to the table with a little more than $70,000."

In the end, no concrete agreement for how to break down the funding levels was reached Tuesday night, though there did seem to be some movement by all sides. The participants ended the night by agreeing to try to find a date in early January when everyone—including someone from the city of Ketchum—can meet again.

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