Wednesday, November 30, 2011

County, cities headed to mediation over dispatch

State E-911 commission will oversee Dec. 13 meeting


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County and the cities of Hailey and Sun Valley are set to meet with the state Emergency Communications Commission in an attempt to resolve funding difficulties surrounding consolidated dispatch. The meeting has been set for Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 1 p.m. at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

The Idaho Emergency Communications Commission was formed in 2004, and has oversight over all locally consolidated dispatch systems statewide. According to the commission's website, the Legislature created it to assess the need for emergency communications services statewide and to address any difficulties that counties and cities might have when implementing dispatch services.

Eddie Goldsmith, E-911 program coordinator for the commission, said the cities and the county are required to undergo mediation before they can take E-911 issues to court. While the commission will come up with a solution, Goldsmith said, there is nothing forcing either municipality to follow its recommendation.

"They can choose to accept it or not accept it," he said.

The mediation is the result of a yearlong process following Sun Valley's refusal to pay the full amount for emergency dispatch services provided by the county. The county announced in March that it had been providing dispatch services for Sun Valley since October 2010 without having received payment.

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Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich said in March that he disagreed with the method by which the county bills cities for dispatch services. Emergency communications services are partially funded by the E-911 levy and the county, which covers the cost of emergency 911 calls and calls for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. The remainder of the cost, roughly $401,850, is split among the cities using a formula based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction.

This system has been vehemently opposed by Sun Valley, which contends that many of its residences are mostly vacant second homes, and billing should be based on the number of calls for service that each jurisdiction receives per year.

Hailey entered the fray separately, threatening in June to pull the city out of consolidated dispatch services if the calls-for-service method is adopted. City Council members argued in June that a calls-for-service model would put an unfair burden on the city taxpayers, and that cities should not be required to pay for county dispatch services at all.

"Any change from the current system is going to force Hailey to seek other options," Councilman Don Keirn said in June.

McCleary said the results of an Emergency Communications Commission mediation on Tuesday in Caldwell were likely to have an impact on Blaine County, as the cases are similar. The results of that mediation were not available by press time Tuesday.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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