Friday, March 22, 2013

Court is an option in dispatch dispute

Bellevue, Sun Valley are uncertain of future


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A Hailey police officer clocks motorist speeds. Blaine County commissioners are concerned that if Hailey, Sun Valley and Bellevue contract administrative dispatch calls out of the county, delays caused by transferring calls between dispatch centers could put residents at risk. Express file photo

    County and city leaders said Wednesday that despite Hailey’s move to sign a contract for administrative dispatch calls with a regional service, they are still working to come together on a countywide solution.
    The city of Hailey on Monday signed a contract with the Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center for coverage of administrative calls, effective as long as the cities of Sun Valley and Bellevue join in.
    County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said Wednesday that he was not surprised when Hailey announced its intentions to contract with SIRCOMM on Monday.
    “This has been an ongoing situation,” he said. “It’s been going on for some time, and it has just come to a head. There was a lot of posturing by the City Council.”
    But leaders of Bellevue and Sun Valley say nothing has been resolved regarding their dispatch decisions.
    Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said Wednesday that the city has been unhappy with the current method that the county uses to fund Blaine County consolidated dispatch. Dispatch services were consolidated in 2007, and were partially funded by an E-911 levy.
    The county chipped in an additional $401,850 to fund the remaining cost of emergency 911 calls and calls for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. The county and cities decided on a formula based on the number of addresses in each jurisdiction, rather than by a projected number of calls. The system has been vehemently opposed by the city of Sun Valley, which contends that many of its residences are mostly-vacant second homes.
    Hailey’s objection stems from the cost for dispatch services. The city reduced its dispatch budget for fiscal year 2013 as early as July, setting the number at $120,000, which was $37,779 less than it paid for dispatch services for fiscal 2012. Also, Hailey, along with Bellevue and Sun Valley, did not sign contracts with the county for dispatch services in 2013, though all government entities have continued to pay their bills.
    Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch said he couldn’t comment on whether his city would follow the city of Hailey, as the Bellevue City Council had not yet met to discuss the issue. The next council meeting is Thursday, March 28.
    But Briscoe said the city is not ruling out either the possibility of joining Hailey or working with the county.
    “We have been studying that and attending several meetings looking at the possibility,” he said of signing a contract with SIRCOMM.
    He said there may be a special meeting called in the near future to discuss the issue, but he holds out hope that “service with equitable payment by the cities” can be obtained through discussions with Blaine County.
    “It’s my hope that we will be able to modify the funding formula within the current system,” he said, adding that the city would have to look for other options if that is not possible. Briscoe said Sun Valley could save between $30,000 and $40,000 of the $115,000 annual cost that it pays the county for dispatch services.
    However, County Commissioner Larry Schoen said he believes savings come at another type of cost—safety to residents. In an interview, he said he is concerned about delays that could occur if a nonemergency call, such as a traffic stop, turned into an emergency call.
    Schoen also said that though Hailey believes it will save 39 percent on its $145,000 bill by switching to SIRCOMM, the cost is that much lower because the city will not be receiving emergency dispatch services from SIRCOMM. Instead, emergency dispatch services will still be handled by Blaine County—and will need to be paid for somehow.
    “We must provide emergency dispatch services to our people,” he said. “The question then becomes, how would we pay for it?”
    Idaho code is not entirely clear on that question. While the city of Hailey has said the county has an obligation to fund emergency dispatch services to everyone in the county, Schoen said Hailey needs to “pay in” for use of Blaine County emergency dispatch, even if it contracts out administrative calls.
    Schoen said the county could take legal action against Hailey, Bellevue and Sun Valley if they choose to back out of consolidated dispatch for emergency calls. He said a court hearing could determine which entity is correct—Hailey or the county.
    “I truly believe we should be able to agree and salvage the situation,” he said. “If not, then we would have to go to court. I don’t think that in a community like ours, we should have to go to court to resolve this kind of dispute.”
Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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