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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2002

Election 2002

E-911: We don’t have it, county wants it

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County voters on Nov. 5 will be asked if they want to support a program that would charge regular telephone customers an ongoing $1 monthly fee to pay for upgrading the county’s old-fashioned 911 emergency-dispatch system to a more efficient system known as enhanced 911.

Specifically, the ballot item will ask: "Shall the governing board of Blaine County (Blaine County Commissioners) be authorized to institute a telephone line user fee in an amount no greater than one dollar ($1.00) per month to be used to fund an emergency telephone system, commonly known as enhanced 911 (E-911) service?"

Ballots will ask whether individuals want to vote "yes" or "no" on the proposal, with a "yes" vote being in favor of the imposition of the monthly fee to go specifically toward the E-911 upgrade and future maintenance of the system.

The proposal was put forth by the Wood River/Sawtooth EMS Council, an association of all law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services in Blaine County and its cities. The initiative has received endorsements from the city councils of Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue and Carey.

Blaine County is the only county of its size in Idaho that does not have E-911.

Members of the EMS Council believe the growing population of the county, shortfalls in the current system and problems coordinating the valley’s multiple fire districts and law-enforcement agencies all combine to make the upgrade a necessary investment.

The existing 911 system—which includes two dispatch centers located in Ketchum and Hailey—requires a dispatcher to get directly from the caller all of the relevant information about an emergency being reported, including the location of the incident.

If the call is interrupted or incorrect information is given, responders can be delayed in getting to the scene.

The enhanced 911 system would employ advanced technology that would, upon the receipt of an emergency call, automatically provide the dispatcher with the caller’s telephone number, address and a list of instructions on how responders can reach the location. A map that pinpoints the caller’s location and a message indicating the proper responding agency would also appear on the dispatcher’s screen.

The EMS Council has estimated that the upgrade will cost approximately $440,000 to purchase and install, with additional ongoing costs for maintenance. After the initial installation of the system is paid for, part of the fee will likely go to future upgrades, possibly to integrate the system with cell phones.

The proposed system would be compatible with cell phones when the technology becomes available, but would not serve cell-phone customers immediately. Therefore, cell-phone customers would not initially be charged the fee.

The fee would be assessed for each incoming telephone line a customer has, not for each telephone a customer keeps.

Organizers have stated they would likely seek the full $1 fee for the first four or five years, after which it could go down.

Len Harlig, chairman of the Wood River/Sawtooth EMS Council, said the group has not selected a vendor and exact system. However, he has assured the public that the system would be significantly smaller and different from a much-publicized, problematic system in Ada County.

"Ninety nine point nine percent of E-911 systems work perfectly well," he said. "This is a life and death issue. E-911 is a service which we don’t have, but we do need."

If the measure were passed, local phone-service provider Qwest would likely initiate the fee during the February 2003 billing period and keep it in place for an indefinite period of time. The EMS Council has estimated the system could be activated by July 2004.

A "yes" vote on the ballot measure would be in favor of E-911 being brought to Blaine County. A "no" vote would be against E-911 and the imposition of the fee to pay for it.



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