Ada County plans new center for emergency dispatch

State fees for 911 calls are expected to pay for half of the $9.5 million facility.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comJuly 15, 2014 

  • ADA COUNTY PREPARING 2015 BUDGET

    The county is proposing a $255 million budget next year, 22 percent more than this year's budget. The bulk of the increase - $37 million - is to pay off the bond for the Ada County Courthouse seven years early, saving $6 million in interest.

    Also included in the 2015 budget is $4.1 million to start the new 911 emergency dispatch center.

    To cover general county spending, the county plans to collect the full amount of property tax allowed under state law and take an additional $1.7 million in foregone property taxes.

    What are foregone property taxes?

    State law allows counties, cities and other taxing districts to increase their budget by 3 percent a year, plus the property taxes collected on the value of new construction.

    Taxing districts can choose not to collect the full amount, which is then considered "foregone" - but that doesn't mean it cannot be collected at a later date. Under state law, this uncollected revenue can accrue with no limits or expiration. Each year, while setting its budget, a taxing district with foregone taxes can choose to collect some or all of that revenue (as long as the increased tax collection does not exceed the maximum tax levy rate, which is set by state law).

    So what has the county not been collecting?

    For seven years, between 2006 and 2012, the Ada County commissioners chose not to take the full 3 percent budget increase, leaving a total of $19.4 million on the table. At the time, the county said it wanted to provide taxpayers property tax relief and wanted to build budgets that rely less and less on property taxes.

    Now, however, the county wants to draw from its foregone revenue "to cover ongoing expenses that have already been incurred in previous years. The best example of these expenses would be increases in personnel in previous years," said Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, who is preparing the budget under the commissioners' direction. The commissioners referred questions about their plans to collect foregone taxes to McGrane.

    The county does not expect to collect foregone taxes in 2016, McGrane said.

    Do any other Treasure Valley districts have foregone taxes?

    Five other Treasure Valley taxing districts have foregone more than $1 million in property taxes, in addition to Ada County. The city of Boise does not have any foregone taxes:

    • Canyon County: $7.8 million

    • Ada County Highway District: $6.4 million

    • Nampa: $2.8 million

    • Caldwell: $2.7 million

    • Meridian: $1.2 million

    Canyon County, ACHD, Nampa and Meridian said they will not collect foregone taxes next year. Caldwell has not made a determination.

    Canyon County and Nampa also said they will not take their permitted 3 percent increase. Boise is taking the full 3 percent; ACHD, Meridian and Caldwell are determining if they will need to take none, some or all of the 3 percent in their budgets next year.

    Will my property taxes go up?

    To calculate how much tax to collect from a property owner, each taxing district determines how much revenue it needs for the coming year. That amount is then divided by the total assessed value of all taxable property in the district to determine the tax levy rate.

    Even with the budget increase, Ada County officials say the county's 2015 levy rate will decline because the value of all taxable property countywide increased from $27 billion to $30.9 billion. A decreased levy rate does not always mean decreased individual property taxes, because a property owner's assessed value could increase or other taxing districts could increase their levy rates.

    Want to learn more about Ada County's 2015 budget?

    The Board of Ada County Commissioners will hold a public presentation on the proposed 2015 budget at 6 p.m. Thursday in the main floor hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse, 200 W. Front St. Commissioners will adopt the final budget on Aug 5.

    Budget information is available online at adacounty.id.gov.

    Written comments regarding the budget may be submitted to the Board of Ada County Commissioners prior to July 22 at 200 W. Front St., Boise, ID 83702, by email to bocc1@adaweb.net or by calling 287-7000.

In a sense, 911 dispatchers are the first first-responders. They are the initial point of contact during an emergency, and they must make decisions and take actions to ensure that police, fire and paramedics get the right information to respond correctly.

Each month, Ada County 911 Public Safety Communications Center takes an average of 10,000 emergency calls and 28,000 nonemergency calls. The 911 center dispatches for more than a dozen agencies including the Sheriff's Office and Boise, Meridian and Garden City police departments, six fire districts, paramedics and, at times, state and federal firefighting agencies.

Since 1977, the Ada County dispatch center has been housed in the basement at the Ada County Public Safety building on Barrister Drive. As the county has grown and technology advanced, the center has had to add more dispatchers and more equipment.

Today, the 1,500-square-foot room is packed with 14 dispatch slots. If the Sheriff's Office wanted to add a 15th slot, it couldn't.

"The floor is now at its limit," said Stephen O'Meara, emergency communications manager. "There is no space to grow additional call takers."

The facility's power, standby power and computer-heat management also are reaching capacity.

Advanced technology takes more computers, servers and other equipment.

"All of that takes electricity and power consumption creates heat" that has to be cooled to protect the equipment, O'Meara said.

"We've done the best we can with our current center for as long as we can," said Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney. But the county needs a "modern" dispatch center that can, for example, accept text messages and video.

"For a growing number of our citizens, texting is the same thing as calling. We must adapt," Raney said. "The current center simply can't do that."

The Sheriff's Office considered retrofitting the 37-year-old building, but bringing it up to code would be costly and still wouldn't give the county the necessary space and infrastructure it needs, said O'Meara. Even to replace the aging backup generator, he said, would require costly code upgrades.

The best solution is to build a new center, O'Meara said. The Sheriff's Office is working with the commissioners on a plan to build a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot dispatch center on county-owned land in Meridian. A paramedic station and Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement facility already are housed on the 11-acre complex at Pine Avenue and Locust Grove Road.

"If we've got a well-built, purpose-designed center with a lot of good cooling, a lot of power headroom and a lot of standby power for backup, we are looking at something that would be beneficial to everyone in the county," O'Meara said.

State 911 fees - $1 per month per wired or wireless phone - can be used for equipment only, not construction or buildings. The county will use property tax dollars to pay for the project, which will be completed in phases over the three next years.

On Thursday, the county commissioners will consider setting the 2015 budget, with $4.1 million for the first phase of replacing the dispatch center.

"We've gotten as much as possible out of it. Even with the equipment we have now, the infrastructure is maximized and could potentially fail from an overload," Raney said. "Outdated equipment is always at risk of failing. The idea that you could call 911 and have no one answer because of equipment failure that we could have predicted and prevented is simply not acceptable."

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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