Wednesday, March 23, 2011

City, county at impasse over funding

Sun Valley doesn’t want to pay full bill for dispatch services

Express Staff Writer

The city of Sun Valley has been delinquent for half a year in paying $117,000 to the county for providing emergency-dispatch services, but City Council members contend it's not their fault. They said at a March 17 special meeting that the issue has gone unresolved for so long because Mayor Wayne Willich has kept them in the dark.

"I think it needs to be clarified that this council has never discussed this matter," Councilman Nils Ribi said. "It never voted on it."

County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said at the special meeting that she had had repeated conversations with Willich since September about the city's refusal to pay for the service, and she was under the impression that Willich was speaking for the council.

"No one on the council has been part of the discussions," said Council President Dewayne Briscoe, who presided over the meeting in Willich's absence.

Willich was not at Thursday's meeting because he's in Mexico. He couldn't be reached for this story.

Briscoe said the council had to call the special meeting because of the approaching "train wreck" over this issue, and Willich—who writes council meeting agendas—"refused" to include this topic in the March 17 regular meeting.

"He (Willich) was very unhappy I was calling this special meeting," said Briscoe, who's acting mayor in Willich's absence.

A majority of the council informally agreed to pay the $85,000 it budgeted this fiscal year—which started in October—for the county-provided service. But that's $32,000 short, and the county commissioners are unlikely to change their request, McCleary said.

"We are not deadbeats," Briscoe said, adding that the city will follow through on the promised $85,000.

At budget time for the city last spring, the county hadn't provided a figure for its emergency-dispatch service for fiscal year 2010-11, but $117,000 is the same that Sun Valley paid in 2009-10. However, it did so under protest, and Willich proposed only $85,000 for the new budget.

"I don't think any of us (council members) were aware that that wasn't what the county wanted," Councilwoman Joan Lamb said in an interview.

"The only thing we knew was that the mayor was proposing $85,000," Ribi said, also in an interview.

McCleary has said that Willich was the point man between the county and the city.

Despite the council's now being aware of the $32,000 difference between their budgeted payment and the amount requested, the council was hesitant to hand it over.

"The city of Sun Valley wants to be an upstanding citizen," Councilman Bob Youngman said, "but the system needs to be fair."

The contention stems from the structure used to determine the amount each jurisdiction pays for emergency-dispatch services. The county divides cities' payments based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction, rather than by the number of calls. The system has been vehemently opposed by the city of Sun Valley, which contends that many of its residences are second homes, vacant the vast majority of the year, and don't need nearly as much service as occupied homes.

McCleary reiterated the county's threat to limit service if not paid. Nevertheless, Lamb said, the city shouldn't cave into the county's "bullying." The council demanded that the county move to a "fairer" form of determining cities' rates, preferably based on the proportion of calls. They contend that if that were the case, cities would be paying their fair shares.

"We're doing our due diligence for 2012," McCleary said.

Ribi said the city has heard this from the county every year for the past few years.

"We have constantly been rebuffed," he said. "Here we go again. It's so frustrating. I have this gut feeling it's going to happen again."

Despite Sun Valley's concerns, Briscoe said an agreement is "imperative" for this year and the remaining $32,000 in question.

"It's obvious to all of us that this impasse must be worked out," he said.

How to break through the impasse remains to be seen. The council agreed to wait until Willich returns to continue discussions on the question.

Trevon Milliard:

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