The state should shut down Post Falls’ 911 center now that the county’s version is running smoothly, sheriff’s officials said Monday.
Kootenai County Sheriff Pierce Clegg contends the city’s emergency dispatch operation is illegal and wastes taxpayer money by duplicating a public service.
He urged the Idaho Attorney General’s office to force a merger of the two systems, according to a March 23 letter to Attorney General Al Lance.
“This controversy has been going on too long now, and must be addressed immediately,” the letter states.
Lance’s office received the letter Monday. A spokesman said a response would be issued within a month.
Mayor Jim Hammond said Monday his city is “on firm legal ground.” He has no plans to merge unless compelled to by the state.
“This is the first time in all the years we’ve been operating that the legality of our operation has been questioned,” Hammond said. “The level of service we’re providing now is such that we would not opt to join.”
Post Falls and the county have battled for years over 911 consolidation. Post Falls has maintained it can serve area residents better than the county.
“Things have been going fairly smoothly and this just opens up old wounds,” said Post Falls Police Chief Cliff Hayes.
The city’s center has been open since the early 1980s and takes emergency calls from the Rathdrum, Post Falls and Hauser Lake areas.
Residents approved a countywide center in a 1991 election. The county’s center opened in spring of 1993 and serves the remaining areas.
Sheriff’s officials admit the center has had more than its share of problems.
The first 911 director quit. Less than six months later, county commissioners fired new director Bert Rorhbach.
Former commissioner Mike Anderson took over as interim director and was promptly hounded out following complaints that he politicized the operation.
Things now have settled down, officials said. After a lengthy search, the county hired director Kent Hall in December. The former communications commander from Austin, Texas, has earned favorable reviews.
“We understand why it didn’t happen sooner, given all the turmoil, but that’s all gone,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Ben Wolfinger. Besides, “it’s the law and the people voted for it and haven’t received it yet.”
The dispute involves three main issues: control, safety and money.
The sheriff’s department points to a section of Idaho law that says once a countywide 911 service has been approved by voters it shall assume control of any existing service.
Post Falls officials contend that since their center was established before July 1987, they are exempt from the law.
Additionally, much of the area served by Post Falls is unincorporated. An emergency call from those areas would go to Post Falls, but would then be rerouted to county dispatchers.
Wolfinger and Hall say that wastes precious time. Hayes says it’s only a matter of seconds.
County officials say it also wastes money through useless duplication.
Money to run both systems comes in part from a $1 surcharge on each county telephone.
Kootenai County’s 911 center employs 28 dispatchers, secretaries and shift leaders. About 45 percent of its $1.2 million budget comes from those fees, said County Clerk Tom Taggart.
The Post Falls center employs 10 people and operates on less than $500,000 a year, said Brent Ramharter, city finance director. Less than 20 percent of that budget comes from the telephone surcharge.
County Commissioner Dick Compton says consolidation would save taxpayers money and would give the county more money to cover areas it covers already. But he wants Post Falls to merge willingly.
“We don’t want to shove it down their throats,” he said.
Hammond said Post Falls will take no action until it hears from Lance’s office.
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