Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bellevue questions costs of dispatch

County communications director defends system

Express Staff Writer

Larry Plott

Bellevue officials are questioning the need to spend about $30,000 in the upcoming fiscal year for the city's portion of a countywide emergency dispatch system.

The dispatch system that was installed six years ago has created an ongoing dispute over funding models. County and city officials have been at odds over whether a calls-for-service model or an address-based model is more equitable.

Bellevue City Councilman Larry Plott questioned the need for a system costing taxpayers more than $900,000 per year. He said Mountain Home, with a similar number of officers serving an almost equal population, gets the job done for only $420,000 per year.

"I think we got a Cadillac rolling here and I am not sure what to do about it," Plott said at a council meeting Thursday. "I have a real problem with how high this cost is."

By comparison, Plott said, the Elmore County Sheriff's Office in Mountain Home employs 63 police officers and seven dispatchers, compared with 61 officers in Blaine County.

Blaine County communications director Beth English told the council that the Blaine County dispatch center has 12.5 dispatch positions. She said she was already working "short-handed" and would not recommend reducing the number.

"I'm not willing to accept that liability," she said. "The buck stops with the Blaine County board, but it's going to run all over me before it gets there."

English told the council that dispatch calls from Bellevue dropped from 4,400 in 2009 to about 3,000 in 2010.

She said the dispatch system was "no Cadillac" and was already dated by comparison with other systems she has worked with.

English said Blaine County's last $128,000 annual payment for purchase of the system would be made next year.

"That will free up some money within the system," she said.

Plott suggested that English go to Mountain Home to see how they operate their system less expensively.

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