Wednesday, April 13, 2011

City pays up but has bone to pick

Debate over county-provided dispatch services not over

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi advocates paying the county in full for dispatch services while Councilman Dewayne Briscoe listens. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Sun Valley City Council has been reluctant to pay its $117,000 bill for dispatch services but unanimously changed its tune Thursday, deciding to write the check to the county in light of history regarding the mayor, who has been the point man between the city and county.

"First throw the mayor under the bus and then do this," said Mayor Wayne Willich at the April 7 meeting.

The contention between the county and city over dispatch services stems from the structure determining the amount each city pays for the service. The county divides cities' payments based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction. Sun Valley has opposed the system, arguing that many of its residences are second homes, vacant the majority of the year, and don't need nearly as much service as occupied homes.

For that reason, the City Council has objected to paying the $117,000 in full—arguing it's paying more than its fair share—and budgeted $85,000 for this fiscal year. However, two council members heard from the county in a small meeting Monday that Willich, Sun Valley's representative on a Partners Advisory Council that recommended this year's payment model, voted in favor of the payment model the city is fighting. Willich confirmed that he voted in approval, but said he did so after realizing that he was the lone dissenter in the room.

The committee was formed three years ago when the cities and county agreed to consolidate dispatch services. Each jurisdiction has a representative on the committee, which annually recommends the funding model to the county.

"You never told us you agreed to this. We assumed you didn't," said Councilman Bob Youngman, arguing that this now obligates the city to pay. "There wasn't even a dissenting vote. It was unanimous. Therefore, the county's thinking, 'Why hasn't Sun Valley paid?'"

"We have no standing," Councilman Nils Ribi said. "We have no power to negotiate."

"You guys are a piece of work, believe me," Willich replied.

"If I commit at a meeting and say I'm representing the city, I follow through on it," Youngman rebutted.

But the mayor doesn't decide the budget—the City Council does. Willich said he gave the committee a disclaimer that his vote isn't binding, that he had to take it back to the council.

Youngman and Ribi, who met with County Commissioner Angenie McCleary and County Administrator Derek Voss on Monday, said the county representatives told them that Willich never presented such a disclaimer to the committee.

"I'm not saying the county is lying but has selective memory," Willich said.

The council voted to sign a contract with the county for dispatch services for the current fiscal year and pay $117,000.

"You guys are going to ride in on your white horse now?" Willich remarked.

But this isn't the end

Despite the council paying its bill, it's still vying to change the funding model—preferably based on calls for service in each city—for next year, and also has a bone to pick with the county over its budget.

Councilman Ribi presented the county's dispatch budget from last year, showing that it received $904,000 in revenue and budgeted the same in expenditures. However, actual expenses amounted to $808,000, leaving $96,000 unused.

He said the county should have split the savings among the cities, but instead kept it. Even worse, Ribi said, the county budgeted $810,000 in expenditures this year but still asked for $904,000 from cities.

"They're already planning to pocket $94,000," he said.

"What Nils has shown is that the county has made this into a profit center," Councilwoman Joan Lamb said.

As for changing the funding model, PAC's next meeting is April 28 at 4 p.m. in the Old County Courthouse in Hailey. Discussions will begin over next year's funding model. Councilman Dewayne Briscoe argued that Sun Valley wouldn't be able to change a thing unless Ketchum, which also has many vacant second homes, also wants to contest the funding mechanism.

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