For the week of August 19 thru August 25, 1998  

Ketchum could precede county with E-911 service

Express Staff Writer

By next year, the city of Ketchum could have an addition to its 911 emergency phone service that automatically transmits the caller’s address to the dispatcher.

Plans for a consolidated, county-wide dispatch service have been in the works for some seven years. But the Blaine County Commissioners have decided there will be no ballot initiative this November for a $1 per month phone levy for an Enhanced 911, or E-911 service, this fall.

It will be some time, then, before a county-wide dispatch including an E-911 service is up and running.

But Ketchum can still get the lifesaving benefits of an E-911 system without waiting for the county to take action, Ruth Maxwell, the city’s emergency communications director told the Ketchum City Council Monday night.

"People think you need to consolidate first and then get E-911, but consolidation is quite complex," Maxwell said.

E-911 allows dispatchers to see the name and address of a caller almost immediately on a computer screen, an important piece of information in a tourist town where many callers have no idea what their address is.

Fire Chief Tom Johnson also spoke in support of expanding the E-911 service as soon as possible.

"People say this is a small town, but we don’t know each other that well," he said. "Anyone who calls will get the same level of service."

Maxwell said bringing E-911 to Ketchum would cost about $114,000. Capital costs would run $90,000, and service costs would be $24,000 the first year. Maxwell estimates the cost to Ketchum will be about 7.5 cents per phone line, of which there are some 14,700 with a 725, 726 and 727 prefix.

Idaho state law allows a one-dollar per phone line levy for county-wide dispatches only. Financing for a Ketchum-only E-911 would have to come from the budget.

If the county-wide consolidation never happens, however, Ketchum could apply for its own dispatch status. Only then could a $1 per month phone levy be put in front of voters on a ballot.

"I think it’s terribly important that we do this," said Councilwoman Sue Noel. "I think it’s critical that we do it now out of the coming year’s budget."

Councilwoman Chris Potters suggested adding a tentative line-item to the 1998/99 fiscal year budget, setting aside the $114,000 for the E-911 service.

Mayor Guy Coles said while he is in favor of an E-911 system, he is wary about using taxpayer money to expand the service to match the current range of ambulance service, which goes way beyond city limits. The Ketchum ambulance service reaches as far north as the Beaver Creek Store, some 40 miles north, and as far south as the East Fork Bridge.

"We shouldn’t wait for consolidation to do this," Coles said, "but we have to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our constituents."

The council will hold a public hearing on the matter as part of its Sept. 8 budget discussion at city hall.


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