The Hailey City Council authorized a contract Monday with the Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center for coverage of Hailey’s non-emergency dispatch calls, as long as the cities of Bellevue and Sun Valley agree to join in.
The yearly contract, which is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1, is for $89,250, 39 percent less than the $145,649 bill that Blaine County has submitted to the city to pay for its annual share of the locally operated E-911 system.
“This is a savings we cannot ignore,” Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said.
SIRCOMM operates a consolidated emergency communications system for various fire protection, emergency medical and law enforcement agencies within the counties of Jerome, Twin Falls, Gooding and Lincoln.
Hailey, Sun Valley and Bellevue have protested the city dispatch funding mechanism since E-911 dispatch was implemented in Blaine County in 2007. Emergency communications are partly 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.
Haemmerle said the city’s decision to pursue other services was due in part to Blaine County’s reluctance to negotiate with the city on the terms of payment.
“They have referred to us as partners, but treated us as funders,” he said Monday.
County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg read a letter to the City Council from the commissioners before the council went to a vote on the issue, saying the move would “increase risks” to callers, and jeopardize the E-911 system by underfunding it.
“A non-emergency situation can become an emergency quickly and unexpectedly,” the letter states. “The concept of transferring a call from one agency to another in such circumstances is problematic on multiple levels, for all parties.”
“I appreciate their concern,” said Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter in an interview. “But the Idaho State Police dispatches 220 patrol officers statewide through three dispatch centers. I don’t think there will be a problem having non-emergency calls dispatched from 60 miles away in Jerome. Emergency calls would still be handled by our local E-911 system.”
Gunter said computerized mapping makes dispatching safe even for those not familiar with the local terrain.
The Hailey City Council was unmoved by the County Commission’s safety concerns, yet did express regret that the city would be leaving the county without a portion of its expected funding. Councilwoman Carol Brown said she is impressed with SIRCOMM’s long-term capital improvement plan.
“SIRCOMM is becoming the regional provider that Blaine County wanted to be,” she said.
Councilman Don Keirn said Blaine County should also consider contracting out with SIRCOMM, which he said had achieved an “economy of scale.”
“The county could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by looking at it,” he said.
City Attorney Ned Williamson said the effective date of the contract was purposefully pushed back to Oct. 1.
“We want to give the county plenty of time to respond and to plan,” he said.
The mayors of Bellevue and Sun Valley could not be reached for comment by press deadline Tuesday as to what their plans are.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org