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City and county officials met Friday, May 23, to discuss whether or not the city should contribute to the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch service and if so, how much. The format of the meeting was a work session meant as an exchange of information. As per work session legal statutes, no final decisions were made.

Collected data confirms that a majority of calls to the dispatch service come from within the city limits. Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman is asking the city to contribute $84,000 a year to the present Dispatch system which also handles all calls from the Emergency 911 system. He told the gathered officials the money has not been specifically earmarked but the financial need is for the hiring of two more dispatch employees.

City Police Chief KV Felker said taking that amount of money from his budget would mean having to cut two positions in his department. Bowerman said he does not mean for that to happen and in fact had the highest praise for the city’s Police Department and the working relationship between city and county law enforcement.

Bowerman presented several scenarios to consider. The first was to continue with the status quo although in terms of officer safety he would still need financial help with dispatch services. He referred to claims of double taxation from residents of the city who pay city taxes as well as county taxes. He cited three similar city vs county dispatch cases in Idaho which resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that said there was no double taxation involved.

His second proposal was for the Sheriff’s Office to contract with the city for an amount equivalent to two years of Police Department operations which Bowerman said would fund the conversion of the city Police Department to the County Sheriff’s Department. He said he would hire all police personnel except one who would be given an opportunity in the dispatch or jail system. Bowerman said that in three years the city would realize a savings of $100,000 per year and it would still have the 24-7, 365 days a year coverage.

Bowerman said money to fund the constant upgrades to the emergency 911 technology comes from the $1.75 charge on every telephone land line and cell phone in the county. He said that money cannot, by law, be used for staff salaries.

Brett Barsalou, a former long time sheriff, city councilman and county commissioner, was an invited guest at the work session. He advised a review of the state statute regarding the user fees and how they can be adjusted. He also said based on his research he has to disagree with Bowerman’s estimate of cost savings related to consolidation. He said studies show that after five to ten years the consensus of agencies which had consolidated was efficiency had increased but there had not been a big savings in costs. Barsalou said one of the biggest problems with consolidation is the constant personnel changes brought on by elections of new councilmen, sheriffs, county commissioners and mayors. He said long-term agreements are only as good as the personalities involved at the time.

Barsalou also said there is a very big difference between municipal and county law enforcement. Above all he urged officials to involve input from Police Chief KV Felker in whatever decisions are made.

Sheriff’s Office Communications Supervisor Paul Smith has compiled the complete financial statistics of the Dispatch service as well as user data. He offered to make available whatever information the city needs for its research. He said the number of calls to Dispatch from city residents is in the neighborhood of 60 percent. He estimated that it would cost the city around $476,000 to operate its own bare-bones Dispatch service minus the 911 system. Establishment of a dispatch system strictly for city calls was one of Sheriff Bowerman’s possible alternatives.

In a letter to the city council Bowerman stated that if he doesn’t obtain some funding assistance from the city for the dispatch service by October 1 he will cut off all dispatch services to the city except for 911 or felony in progress calls. When questioned as to how that would save money the sheriff said it wouldn’t, but it would alleviate some of the pressures on his dispatchers. None of those in attendance at the work session felt that would be in the best interests of the community.

Members of the City Council asked questions to clarify some of the information presented and will be conducting further research prior to the next work session. That session was set for June 4 at 4PM prior to the 6PM Salmon City Council meeting in the Salmon Valley Center meeting room.

Barsalou was invited to open the May 23 work session with an account the of local dispatch service history. He began with the infamous light atop the Shoup Building which when lit alerted law enforcement that someone had called for an officer. Calls for assistance progressed to an answering machine in the basement of City Hall which was headquarters for the City Police Department and the only jail. Barsalou said that by 1974 there were five city police officers and he was one of the two county sheriff’s officers. It was around that time that the city decided it needed 24 hour dispatch services.

A Law Enforcement Administration grant was obtained and five dispatchers were hired. The grant paid a hundred percent of the first year’s costs, 75 percent of the second year and 50 percent of the third year. When it came time for the city to take over all costs the city decided it couldn’t afford to fund the service and the county commissioners, without informing the sheriff, agreed to take over dispatch services which instantaneously increased the number of Sheriff’s Office employees from three to eight and, to the chagrin of the sheriff and many residents, doubled the department’s 1976 budget.

In 1994 Sheriff Barsalou instructed Jail Administrator Ken Thompson to begin collecting data on how many dispatch calls were being handled and the origin of the calls. The statistics compiled over a year showed the majority of calls were from the city. The figures were presented to the city with a request for some funding assistance. The city agreed to pay the salary of one dispatcher and that continued until 2008 when Mayor John Miller, based on his belief it was double taxation, stopped the city’s $30,000 yearly contribution.

Barsalou said a sheriff is mandated by law to perform from 14 to 15 specific duties and that running a dispatch center is not one of them. He regrets not turning over the 911 system operations to an outside administrator or board back when there was a choice as to how it was going to be run.

According to Idaho Statutes, once passed by voters, it is a county’s responsibility to maintain a 911 Emergency Call System. Barsalou said he sees both sides of the present issue and can understand Sheriff Lynn Bowerman’s request for the city to help fund the dispatch system even though it is not the city’s legal responsibility.

In addition to those previously mentioned, others in attendance at the work session were; the full city council, Mayor Leo Marshall, Lemhi County Commissioner Rick Snyder, and City Attorney Fred Snook.

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