Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Proposal could end dispatch dispute

Hailey City Council hears plan to solve payment issue

Express Staff Writer

A new plan to solve a dispute among Blaine County municipalities over who will pay for dispatcher salaries at Blaine County's newly consolidated emergency dispatch system hit the Hailey City Council on Monday night.

The payment plan is based on the number of dwelling units in each city, rather than the number of projected calls for service. It was unanimously praised by council members, who saw it as a possible means to end the months-long dispute.

"I think this is a huge step in the right direction," Hailey Councilman Fritz Haemmerle said.

The dispute began last summer when Hailey refused to pay a $250,000 bill presented by the county for its alleged share of projected calls for service to the new dispatch facility at the county Public Safety Facility in Hailey. Bellevue followed suit, but both cities ended up expressing a willingness to pay about one-quarter of the requested fees so long as their levels of emergency dispatch services were not diminished.

In November, a countywide tax levy override to raise funding for dispatch failed at the polls. Since then, the county has agreed to pay $402,030 for six of 13 dispatchers it says are required to operate the system effectively. The county agreed to make that payment so long as the six other government entities, which include two fire departments, agree to pay for the remaining seven dispatchers, which would cost $502,644.

On Monday, County Commissioner Angenie McCleary proposed a "dwelling-unit-based" formula to the Hailey City Council. The plan, which she had been working on with Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown and others prior to the meeting, computes municipal fees for dispatch based on the dwelling units in each town.

"The dwelling units model is a better indicator for the potential use of the system," she said.

The plan would not take into account population or projected number of calls for service in each town, both of which have been presented as criteria for a payment solution.

"Sun Valley and Ketchum have more dwelling units than population, due to the number of second-home owners," McCleary said. "Hailey's percentage of dwelling units is less than the city's percentage of calls for service."

The plan would increase the amount paid by Sun Valley and Ketchum, and decrease the amount that would be paid by Hailey and Bellevue under the calls-for-service formula.

McCleary stressed that the proposal was only in conceptual form and had not been reviewed by municipalities other than Hailey.

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