Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sun Valley could lose dispatch services

City refuses to pay county bill

Express Staff Writer

The city of Sun Valley could lose some emergency communications services if it doesn't pay a $115,000 bill it owes the county.

County Commissioner Angenie McCleary announced during a county meeting Monday that despite continuing negotiations, Sun Valley has refused to pay the bill for providing certain non-emergency dispatch services.

"We've been providing service since October and Sun Valley hasn't paid," McCleary said. "The board needs to think about what action it wants to take."

The problem stems from the structure used to determine the amount each jurisdiction pays for emergency communication services. Dispatch services were consolidated in 2007, and were partially funded by the E-911 levy.

The county chipped in an additional $401,850 to fund the remaining cost of emergency 911 calls and calls for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. The county and cities decided on a formula based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction, rather than by a projected number of calls. The system has been vehemently opposed by the city of Sun Valley, which contends that many of its residences are mostly-vacant second homes.

"The matrix that's used right now, they're counting hotel rooms in some kind of terribly convoluted system that no one understands," said Mayor Wayne Willich, calling the method a "scam."

As a result, the Sun Valley City Council appropriated $85,000 for this year's emergency communications contract with the county, an amount Willich said was roughly what the city would expect to pay using the calls-for-service funding model.

McCleary said the county was never informed of the change in appropriations.

"They never mentioned to the county, 'Oh, by the way, we only budgeted $85,000,'" she said.

When asked if the city had notified the county, Willich said it had but declined to state the method or the time of notification.

McCleary said the parties are working on a contract for emergency communications. However, she said, the city has indicated that it's unwilling to sign a contract for the full amount due.

"It's very clear that the city of Sun Valley is not going to pay any more than $85,000," McCleary said. "We need to decide now, as a county, what are we going to do?"

One option is simply to sign the contract for $85,000, leaving the county to make up the $30,000 difference. While McCleary said that's possible, it would place an additional burden on Blaine County taxpayers and could be deemed unfair to the other cities such as Hailey and Ketchum that are paying their bills in full.

"It would give the impression that our bills are 'pay what you want,'" McCleary said during the meeting, adding in a later interview that it would "erode" the trust among the county and the other consolidated dispatch partners.

The second option is for the county to stop handling so-called "administrative" 911 calls. These calls include non-emergency calls routed to dispatch after office hours, as well as calls for things like license plate checks. "So far, we've been providing the service in good faith, and for the welfare of the whole county," McCleary said, but added that that could change.

Willich said that it would be "irresponsible and dangerous" for the county to withdraw administrative calls.

"It'd put our police officers at risk," Willich said. "If it's a stolen vehicle, now all of a sudden, our police officer has to be wary. He might have a shooter in the car."

Willich said that he would report any attempt to withdraw services to the Idaho Emergency Communications Commission, who, he said, doesn't "look kindly on that sort of thing."

McCleary said she is hopeful a solution could be reached as soon as possible.

"This is something that we should be able to solve," she said. "The fact that we're still debating this three years later is absurd to me."

Willich said the city of Sun Valley is more than willing to sign a contract.

"We have $85,000 in our bank account that we want to hand over to the county," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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