Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dispatch proposal stalls in Sun Valley

County officials still trying to convince city officials to take part in new funding plan


Express Staff Writers

After nearly a year of contentious negotiations, a proposed formula for funding consolidated dispatch services in Blaine County has hit a snag in Sun Valley.

At a meeting last Thursday, the Sun Valley City Council voted not to approve a proposed model to fund salaries and benefits of emergency dispatchers at the county's consolidated dispatch center in Hailey. As a result of the vote, the future of emergency dispatch funding in the county remains as unclear as ever and may have to be renegotiated with a new formula or resolved through state mediation, the process preferred by Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich.

Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary attended the meeting but was cut off before she could make an argument for the latest formula.

"I'm not going to ask for a presentation," Willich said with a smile to McCleary. "Basically, I'm going to start attacking you."

The formula, which Sun Valley officials have vocally opposed, breaks down the shares each fire district and municipality would pay for emergency dispatch services by the number of addresses in each jurisdiction. Under that plan, Hailey would pay $138,898 and Bellevue $28,569 each year. Sun Valley and Ketchum would pay $112,098 and $164,173, respectively.

Though it has been approved by the county and all the other municipalities within it, the model has not been viewed as equitable by officials in Sun Valley.

Instead, Sun Valley has maintained that the dispatch service should be funded based on the number of calls generated from each city every year. That was the original funding plan presented by the county prior to protests from Hailey and Bellevue last summer.

At a county meeting early Tuesday, March 17, Blaine County Commissioners McCleary and Larry Schoen took up the issue again. The meeting was attended by officials from Hailey and Sun Valley, including Willich.

As McCleary and Schoen began to discuss Sun Valley's refusal to take part in the new funding model, Willich broke in. He said he wanted to publicly apologize for cutting McCleary off during last week's meeting in Sun Valley.

"It's a sincere apology," he said. "I thought my behavior was dismissive."

Willich's apology prompted Schoen to state what's been quite obvious during the entire dispatch-funding dispute of the past months.

"There's been a lot of passion," he said. "All of us want what's best for our constituents."

With representatives from the two sparring cities of Hailey and Sun Valley present, Schoen laid out a proposal to get the dispatch funding resolved for the 2010 fiscal year. Under his plan, the county would write a letter to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden seeking his opinion on the dispute and how it might be resolved.

Schoen also proposes that the original users group that came up with the calls-for-service funding plan regroup and ascertain the costs and benefits of the dispatch service and determine which funding model is fairest.

Finally, he asked that all cities and the county continue to look for budgetary efficiencies to allow for a constant source of funding for the emergency dispatch service.

"Dispatch is a service like any other and it has to be paid for," he said. "Dispatch is not a luxury."

Willich, with Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi, promised to take the request back to their city and consider it soon. However, they did say they would still prefer to enter into mediation to resolve the dispute.

Last month, Willich pitched his own proposal, under which Sun Valley and Ketchum would subsidize Hailey and Bellevue until fiscal year 2012. After that, the two south valley cities would need to pay their shares in full. Willich said the gradual break-in period should allow everyone to eventually arrive at a pay-per-call plan.

Under Willich's plan, Hailey and Bellevue would pay $100,000 and $41,000, respectively, for service during fiscal 2010. During fiscal 2011, they would pay $150,000 and $62,000, respectively.

During fiscal 2012, they would begin to pay what Willich stated is each city's annual funding share: $210,000 for Hailey and $82,000 for Bellevue. Based on the number of dispatch calls they generate, Willich's plan would require Sun Valley and Ketchum to pay $66,000 and $136,000 during that same fiscal year.

That plan was never seriously considered by the other municipalities, prompting Willich to blame Hailey for trying to shift the cost of dispatch funding to Sun Valley and Ketchum.

"I need to get the message to Hailey that they're in the West—they need to cowboy up," Willich said.

During the discourse in Sun Valley, Ribi said the dispatch service needs to be consolidated and Sun Valley does not want to be seen as "obstructionist," but the city wants an equitable funding model.

Both Ribi and Councilman Dave Chase voted against the county's proposal while Councilwoman Joan Lamb voted for it, arguing that no one model would completely satisfy every participant. Councilman Dewayne Briscoe was absent from the meeting.

If a new formula can't be devised and agreed upon, the issue could be resolved by a mediator appointed by the Idaho Emergency Communications Commission.

"It's sad testimony that we couldn't solve this as a team," McCleary said after the council had made its decision.

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