Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bill for upgrades surprises county

Leaders discuss funding for emergency communications

Express Staff Writer

Confusion regarding a $68,799 bill from Ada County led to a broader discussion of emergency communications funding Tuesday as commissioners and county staff struggled to find a solution for ongoing communications upgrades.

County Administrator Derek Voss said during a commissioners meeting that he had received a bill from Ada County for $68,799 with no explanation.

Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said the bill was for “version upgrades” to the main emergency communications interoperability site in Ada County.

“It’s like a computer. It works great for the first two years and then it needs upgrades,” he said.

The site is part of a larger system that allows law enforcement across the state to communicate with each other, and with members of other states’ law enforcement agencies that help with large incidents. 

Voss said the county had not committed to the upgrades or budgeted for them, contributing to the confusion.

The Idaho Statewide Interoperability Executive Council put forth draft legislation that would raise the current $1 E-911 fee on all landlines and cell phones to $2 per line, with the extra going to fund items such as system upgrades. The legislation failed, and now Blaine County is struggling with how to fund ongoing upgrades to both the main site in Ada County and sites in Blaine County.

Blaine County Sheriff Chief Deputy Ed Fuller said the equipment and software needed to keep agencies communicating with each other is a necessary cost.

“If we’re going to use the system, we have to pay, and we have to have some kind of funding,” he said.

While the county could legally pay the bill from E-911 funds, the fund does not have enough money to cover it. The commissioners said they would work with members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is made up of volunteers representing the county and local municipalities, and partners in Blaine County Consolidated Dispatch to determine how the bill would be paid and how future upgrades would be funded.

“I’m sure we’ll pay the bill,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said in a later interview. “But we will talk about it again and if we do decide that it is appropriate to make a request to the partners, we’ll need a series of meetings to explain it to them.”

Kate Wutz:

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