Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cities contemplate splitting dispatch

They say municipalities can save 65 percent


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Representatives from the cities of Hailey, Bellevue and Sun Valley said they were looking to find other options for dealing with nonemergency E-911 calls during a county meeting Tuesday.

Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown told commissioners that the three cities had been contacting other vendors for dealing with nonemergency calls that are currently running through dispatch and costing the cities thousands of dollars each year.

"We have vigorously pursued meetings to try to resolve this issue, so it's not for lack of trying," Brown said.

Brown said she received informal quotes that indicated the cities could save 65 percent over what they are currently paying.

Under consolidated dispatch, which was instituted in 2007, emergency communications is partially funded by the E-911 levy, a $1 charge on all phone lines. The county chips in more than an additional $400,000 to fund the remaining cost of emergency 911 calls and calls from the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.

The cities split the remaining expenses—mostly for administrative calls, such as calls to law enforcement offices that are routed to dispatch after hours, or license plate checks—based on the number of addresses in a given city.

This method of funding has been opposed by the city of Sun Valley, which argues that a calls-for-service model would be more fair, and by the city of Hailey, which argues that cities should not be required to pay for county dispatch services at all.

"Even though we've always paid our bill, I still believe that we will never truly arrive at a fair formula," said Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi. "But we have a responsibility to make sure our citizens' tax dollars are taken care of fairly."

Ribi, Brown and Bellevue Councilman Dave Hattula stated that they would prefer to continue routing all calls through consolidated dispatch—but only if the county could name a "competitive" price.

County Administrator Derek Voss said that going with an outside vendor might not have the expected results.

"We have fixed costs associated with operating," he said. "I'm concerned that there is this assumption that costs go away [with administrative calls]."

Wood River Fire Commissioner Jay Bailet put an even finer point on it, saying that dispatch can't afford to lose any technicians.

"Every time someone calls 911, emergency or not, we need someone there to answer the phone," he said. "We really can't get along with less dispatch."

Commissioner and former Ketchum Fire Commissioner Tom Bowman said another problem is determining what is an emergency call and what is not.

"Give us a clear direction of what is a nonemergency call," he said.

Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the issue would be discussed again next Tuesday, when the county had planned on addressing dispatch funding methods for fiscal 2013.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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