Friday, July 15, 2011

Dispatch demands create cuts elsewhere

Sun Valley may slash funds for recreation, community housing, other areas

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley police Sgt. Travis Olsen makes a call to dispatch Thursday morning. The city is at odds with the county over how to fund the service. Photo by David N. Seelig

As the disagreement between Sun Valley and Blaine County over dispatch funding heats up, the city has tentatively agreed to fund the service next year at this year's levels. But city officials may be calling for outside help to mediate the long-running and sometimes acrimonious dispute.

The Sun Valley City Council at a June meeting on the FY2012 budget penciled in $86,000 for dispatch services—a significant cut from last year's contracted amount of $117,280.

After further discussion at a July 12 budget hearing, the council opted to restore the allocation for $117,280 in the draft budget.

Councilman Nils Ribi said there wasn't time to find another solution.

"We got so late into the ballgame for this (fiscal) year ... in our discussions with the county on this," he said. "We don't have a choice. This is a critical service the city must fund."

"If we don't provide that critical service," he added, "we might as well close up shop and not be a city."

The county is required to provide 911 services to the city, but the non-emergency, administrative portion of the service could be curtailed.

Sun Valley officials have frequently voiced opposition to paying what Mayor Wayne Willich has described as a subsidy to south valley cities for the service. The county has objected to Sun Valley's earlier refusal to pay its bills.

At issue is the structure used to determine the amount each jurisdiction pays for the service—a formula based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction rather than by a projected number of calls. It's a system that has some participants questioning how much they should be contributing and, in some instances, whether they should be participating at all.

Angenie McCleary, board chair of the Blaine County Commissioners, stated in a letter dated July 7 to Willich and the council that the commission voted to keep the funding allocation methodology for FY2012 the same as for FY2011 but will look at other options.

"The Board will continue to pursue solutions to this issue and, once successful, will evaluate other methodologies based on calls for service as soon as for FY 2013," the letter reads.

In the meantime, the county is seeking FY2012 funding equal to that of FY2011.

"The County expects the governing body of each jurisdiction participating in the Blaine County Consolidated Emergency Communications system to approve, sign and return its contract in a timely manner ... and to abide by the contract in making its payments. A failure to do so will likely result in a reduction in service," the letter continues.

Sun Valley Police Chief Cameron Daggett said dispatch is essential to public and officer safety. Non-emergency services, for example, include checking license plate numbers during traffic stops to assess potential threats before an officer approaches a vehicle.

"If you have police protection, you need dispatch to go hand in hand," he said.

Willich said the county's suggestion that they could reduce services "sure flies in the face of the spirit of the emergency communications system in the state of Idaho."

The council restored funding to show "good faith," but city officials may call on the Idaho E911 Emergency Communications Commission to mediate the disagreement.

"We have to bring in outside resources to help solve the problem," Ribi said. "We know that it can't be done within the county because of the intransigence of Hailey and Bellevue and the political reality of the county not wanting, truly not wanting to solve the problem. And that's what it boils down to."

The $31,280 the council added back to dispatch was taken out of other external contracts in the draft budget. Proposed funding for Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department was reduced to zero, and potential allocations for Blaine County Housing Authority, Fly Sun Valley Alliance and Mountain Rides, among others, may be scaled back.

Ribi said complaints about the cuts should be directed south.

"You go complain to Hailey and Bellevue and the county, because ... they're not ponying up with what they should do," he said.

No new (property) taxes

At the June budget meeting, Ribi suggested the city not take the 3 percent property tax increase allowed under state law.

The idea was met with a lukewarm response, but Ribi came back with a more persuasive argument at this week's meeting.

Ribi convinced some council members to bypass the increase—which would amount to $76,206—by saying the city can skip it one year but take it the next.

"You may bring back that forgone amount in the next year, and you may bring it back in future years," he said.

Councilwoman Joan Lamb was unmoved. She argued that the city needs the money for increasing operating costs, external contracts that were going to be cut, and projects outlined in the capital improvement program.

"So, to try and telegraph to our citizens, 'Oh, we're doing so well, we don't need your extra $76,000,' to me is really misrepresenting our financial situation. We're going to say that today and six months later come and say, 'Oh sorry we didn't mean that.'

"I don't want to say it's dishonest, but to me it's bordering on that," she said. "It's really misleading."

The city's draft budget is $5,087,835.

A public hearing on the matter was set for 10 a.m., Aug. 2.

Rebecca Meany:

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