Friday, June 10, 2011

Dispatch funding model will remain—for now

Commissioners delay switch to calls-for-service plan

Express Staff Writer

Concerns over the accuracy of emergency-call data led Blaine County commissioners to delay for at least a year a switch to a calls-for-service-based funding method.

Until a more accurate way of determining which calls belong to which city can be developed, the current model should remain in place, the commissioners agreed during their meeting Tuesday. The issue is complex because calls from cell phones are hard to track and various agencies respond to calls in one another's districts.

"We're all operating from poor information," said County Commissioner Larry Schoen.

The proposed new model would base each city's financial contributions to the consolidated emergency 911 dispatch center on its annual call volumes. The idea, which is supported by officials in Ketchum and Sun Valley, has reignited divisions between north- and south-valley cities.

Citing alleged inaccuracies in past emergency call data that have reportedly attributed more calls to south-valley cities than they deserve, the commissioners elected to stick with the current funding model for fiscal 2012. Under that model, the county pays a base rate of $400,000. That figure is the highest funding share of any jurisdiction. Under the current plan, Hailey pays $138,898 and Bellevue pays $28,569. Sun Valley and Ketchum pay $112,098 and $164,173, respectively.

The current funding model allocates each city's funding share on the basis of the total number of parcels or addresses in each city.

Concerns over the ability of south-valley cities to pay an increased share of the dispatch center funding also contributed to Tuesday's well-attended discussion. Bellevue simply doesn't have the extra funding necessary to increase its share, Schoen said.

"How can they be asked to pay money they don't have?" he asked.

During a special meeting at the Blaine County Courthouse on Thursday, June 2, Hailey City Councilman Don Keirn threatened to pull Hailey out of the consolidated emergency 911 dispatch center at the Blaine County jail if the new model is adopted.

In 2007, Blaine County and the city of Ketchum pooled their emergency dispatchers into one group working out of the Blaine County Sheriff's Office in Hailey, using an updated system that has many advantages, but is costly. It allows for doctors to talk to someone through cardiopulmonary resuscitation with the emergency medical dispatch component of the system, for example, but requires more personnel to operate.

Tuesday's decision doesn't mean the county won't choose to switch to the calls-for-service model or a hybrid type of funding model in the future, perhaps as early as fiscal 2013. At the end of the discussion, the commissioners directed county staff to seek a solution that could provide more accurate data on each city's annual call volume.

"Accurate information is our friend," said County Commissioner Tom Bowman.

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