Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hailey short-changes dispatch budget

County exploring its options


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

City funding for county emergency services threw a wrench in the county budget's works on Monday when county commissioners discovered that the city of Hailey had budgeted nearly $38,000 less than it owes the county for dispatch services.

Hailey's tentative budget, set by the City Council on Monday night, includes a line item for $120,000 for dispatch funding—$37,779 less than last year's expenditure of $157,779.

The county has not signed contracts with cities for emergency communication services, but had projected that Hailey would pay the full amount requested rather than the amount shown in the city's budget.

"We know that tentative budgets don't go up," said County Commissioner Tom Bowman during a budget hearing Monday.

By state law, Hailey can't raise that expense before its final budget.

Hailey, as well as Sun Valley and Bellevue, have protested city dispatch funding since consolidated dispatch was implemented in 2007.

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

Cities split the remaining expenses—mostly for administrative calls, such as calls to law enforcement offices that are routed to dispatch after hours, or traffic stops—based on the number of addresses in each city.

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Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown said in a dispatch funding meeting last month that the city could not afford to keep paying the amount charged by the county for administrative calls, and had been in contact with other vendors who said they could save the city thousands of dollars a year. Under such a system, the county would still handle emergency calls.

Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said in an interview Tuesday that the number reflected a quote from a communications service for managing administrative calls.

"That was the estimate that SIRCOMM [Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center] gave us to do the work," he said. "We're going to pursue our options for sure."

SIRCOMM is located in Jerome and operates in Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln and Twin Falls Counties.

The county rejected Hailey's proposal late last month, and Commissioner Larry Schoen warned that if the cities continue to pursue the issue of splitting dispatch—even to the point of non-payment—the county may take legal action. The county currently anticipates that Hailey will enter a contract for dispatch services, though Haemmerle emphasized that the city has not yet made up its mind.

All commissioners said Monday that the county will have to pursue its options if the city signs a contract and doesn't pay the full amount requested.

"We do expect that the contract terms would be met [if signed]," said Commissioner Angenie McCleary. "From my perspective, there would be a consequence for not adhering to the contract."

However, Commissioner Tom Bowman said, "One thing that is not on the table is withholding services. That is so important."

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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