For the week of July 8 thru July 14, 1998  

Voters may decide fate of E-911 tax


By KATHRYN BEAUMONT
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum residents who dial 911 are often surprised to learn that their names, addresses and phone numbers are not immediately available to the dispatchers, said Rebecca Maxwell, Ketchum’s 911 director.

Maxwell asked the Ketchum City Council Monday night to endorse a ballot proposal asking residents to pay for such a service with a $1 per month telephone line user fee.

Currently, to get callers’ phone numbers, dispatchers either look at their Caller ID or use a trace, which takes about five minutes. To get addresses and names, dispatchers have to ask.

"It’s definitely a rudimentary system," Maxwell said. "We’re way behind the times."

An Enhanced 911 system, or E-911--which currently is not available in the county--would give dispatchers the ability to locate a caller automatically. It sends the phone number to a database where the street address is attached. This information is then forwarded to a computer screen in the dispatch center--all in less than a second.

In a tourist area such as Ketchum, Maxwell explained, this is especially important as often many people don’t know from where they are calling.

Blaine County desperately needs this service, Maxwell told the Ketchum City Council on Monday night.

The council unanimously voted to endorse the proposal.

The Blaine County Commissioners ultimately will decide whether the proposal goes on the Nov. 3 ballot at their July 13 meeting.

The service would cost $300,000 for the dispatch equipment, with an annual fee of $27,000 for database access and maintenance.

Maxwell estimates the total billable phone lines in the Wood River Valley at 19,500. She predicts that the levy will be ongoing once the system is up and running to pay for maintenance and operating expenses.

Money for the E-911 service cannot be raised through increased property taxes because of a state-legislated 3 percent cap on property tax increases.

The state Emergency Communications Act allows municipalities to raise money through the phone levy. All other E-911 systems in the state have been funded this way, Maxwell said.

 

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