Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dispatch discussions result in new model

County opposes Hailey’s suggestions

Express Staff Writer

The city of Hailey has proposed a new method for funding emergency dispatch operations, but Blaine County commissioners say the new formula would result in the county's footing most of the bill.

The city of Hailey made the proposal late last month during a meeting of the Partners Advisory Committee, which consists of representatives from all the county's municipalities, in which city representatives were meant to put forth dispatch funding solutions.

The proposal would be a sharp change from the current model, in which the county pays about half the operating costs, County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said during a meeting of the county commissioners Tuesday.

The idea, McCleary said, was that Hailey wished to avoid what it sees as a double-taxation issue, in which city residents are billed twice for dispatch funding, once through county taxes and again through city taxes.

"What they're arguing is that city taxpayers are also county taxpayers," said County Administrator Derek Voss in a later interview. "As county taxpayers, they have already paid into dispatch through county property taxes."

While county residents pay all taxes directly to the county, a portion of those taxes are distributed to various taxing districts. The city of Hailey receives money from those taxes, but must turn around and give roughly $140,000 of those taxes back to the county for dispatch services.

"Our argument is that that method is double taxation," Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said in an interview.

Under Hailey's proposal, each municipality in the county would receive a credit based on the amount of county property taxes from city residents that already go toward funding the dispatch center.

The result would be that Ketchum and Sun Valley would not pay anything for consolidated dispatch, while Hailey would pay far less than under the current model.

"The whole model has the county paying 86 percent of the operating costs," McCleary said.

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves said the model was based both on the current Blaine County model and a model for funding currently being used in Gem County.

"[Hailey] combined the models to their advantage," McCleary said.

The commissioners, who also serve as the governing board for Blaine County emergency communications, said the plan was unfair to the county and undermined one of the fundamental principles of the current funding model.

"The notion is that the county pays for the first six dispatchers—the equivalent of our dispatchers taking 911 calls only," said Commissioner Tom Bowman. "The partners can decide how they want to take care of that [difference]. They can talk all day, but I'm not going to support us going beyond that."

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he felt Hailey "utterly ignored" the January recommendations of the state E-911 Commission, which ruled that the amount paid by each municipality should reflect the services provided to the cities.

"A model that has certain cities paying zero does not reflect the benefit they are receiving," McCleary said.

The Partners Advisory Committee will discuss the proposal further during a meeting today, April 4.

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