Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Commissioners: Dispatch funding method is fair

County says itís open to suggestions


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County commissioners and staff said Monday that a recommendation made by the state E-911 commission essentially supports the organization and funding of Blaine County's consolidated dispatch system, despite protests from individual city leaders.

"The commission really affirmed that what we are doing is correct and proper and fair and transparent and accessible," said Commissioner Larry Schoen. "What the commission recommends is what we're already doing."

The state E-911 commission released its recommendation in January, stating that the county, as the authority over the dispatch center, must use a "fair" and "transparent" method of funding consolidated dispatch, as well as consulting all partners in dispatch on that funding process.

Those partners include the cities of Ketchum, Bellevue, Hailey and Sun Valley—the latter two of which have fought the county on funding amounts and methods since the dispatch center was formed in 2007.

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 $500,000, is split among the cities using a formula based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction.

Sun Valley has consistently maintained that this method is unfair as its addresses are mostly vacant second homes, and billing should be based on the number of calls for service that each jurisdiction receives per year.

Hailey has argued that the model is unfair because the county is the sole governing body for the dispatch system and therefore should take full financial responsibility for it.

County Administrator Derek Voss said Monday that the recommendation solidifies the partnership among the cities and the county regarding dispatch services, but leaves the best funding method up to the commissioners.

"That's where the rub has been for the county," he said. "We haven't been able to reach consensus. All [municipalities] are looking for the most equitable from their vantage point, and no model gives you that equity for all partners."

Commissioner Tom Bowman said he believe the current model is fair—at least, the way the costs are divided between the county and the cities.

"When we first came up with the way the costs are divided, we accepted some responsibility that when someone calls 911, no matter what, we will answer it and send out the appropriate authorities," Bowman said. "The delta [difference between what the county pays and what dispatch costs] has to be picked up by the partners. I hope they come to some consensus on how to do that."

Bowman said the current funding model is "rational," as it's based on a foundation of solid data—the number of addresses in a municipality.

Commissioner Angenie McCleary added that the county would be looking for a data-driven funding model to come from the partners over the next few months, no matter what data it is based on.

"Ultimately, our board will have the authority to decide what to do with [the partners' funding] recommendation," she sad. "If we had a recommendation that came forward from the PAC that was data-driven and made sense, I think we'd take that recommendation."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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