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BoCC to consider 911 surcharge increase Monday

In a Tuesday meeting absent Commissioner Bob Moomaw, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners postponed a decision concerning a proposal to increase the 911 surcharge from 70 cents to $1.25 to fund replacement of failing equipment at the Archuleta County Combined Dispatch center.

Commissioners Clifford Lucero and John Ranson continued the item until the BoCC’s Monday morning special meeting, scheduled for 7:30 a.m., in order to allow Moomaw to have input.

Moomaw missed the meeting to travel to Washington, D.C. to testify before the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources Wednesday concerning the proposal to make Chimney Rock Archaeological Area a national monument.

Currently, the 911 surcharge is 70 cents per subscriber line per month for phones based out of Archuleta County, both landline and cellular.

ACCD runs on a combination of three systems — the 911 call system, a computer-aided dispatch system (CAD) and a radio network — all of which experience delays on a regular basis, according to Jay English, ACCD manager.

“Basically, we’re still holding it together with bubblegum and duct tape,” English said in a previous SUN interview, “And I’m running out of bubblegum.”

The current system also lacks the capability to record locations from wireless callers, which English previously said accounts for approximately 70 percent of all calls.

At Tuesday’s meeting, English informed the BoCC that all of the ACCD partner agencies had expressed support, including the ACCD executive board, Upper San Juan Health Service District, Pagosa Fire Protection District and the Town of Pagosa Springs Town Council.

Following a brief presentation and questions by Ranson concerning the financing rate of new equipment and a comment by County Attorney Todd Starr noting that, based on his experience with the Public Utilities Commission, he was “cautiously optimistic” that an increase would pass, a motion was made and seconded, opening the floor to public comment.

Mark Weiler, manager of Parelli’s Natural Horsemanship, voiced his opposition to rate increases on constituents by previous BoCCs, stating, “That’s a horrible decision to make. It’s a horrible decision to make when you can arguably say 20 percent of the workers in Archuleta County are unemployed.”

Weiler continued, urging the county to challenge their staff to look at alternatives instead of taking the county in the wrong direction financially.

“The change is excellent (referring to the county’s rebound from its financial meltdown). What got you here is not the tools that you’re using now in considering this,” Weiler said.

“I sat on the Town Council when we approved this joint dispatch and I was told that this would be a substantial cost savings to the town. It has not been. It’s been a massive increase to the town,” Weiler said, adding that if he still sat on the Town Council, he would not support the increase.

Weiler continued, “I believe that your community is hurting. Challenge your staff to come up with a better alternative. Do more, with less.”

“I’d like Commissioner Moomaw to weigh in on this one also, and he’s not here right now,” Lucero said after speaking quietly with Ranson.

With that, Ranson withdrew his motion and made his own statement.

“Mr. Weiler, I appreciate your comments, but I’ll tell you what, the county is on a campaign right now to lower our expenses by over $500,000. I think we are listening to the people and these are difficult decisions,” Ranson said, adding, “I very much appreciate your comments, but for us not to hear the people, I would beg to differ.”

A look at the surcharges in surrounding and comparable counties (in terms of size, population and 911 center size) compiled by English from the PUC website indicates that Archuleta County is no trend setter.

Leading the way with a $1.50 charge is Grand County. Delta, Routt and Summit counties charge $1.25, the proposed increased amount for Archuleta County.

Sitting at $1 are Chaffee, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties.

Neighboring La Plata County, who has expressed the intent to raise the surcharge, currently sits at 70 cents. Montezuma and Montrose counties also sit at 70 cents.

If the increase is approved by the BoCC Monday, an application will be made with the Public Utilities Commission. The application will include, among other things, detailed financial justification, such as what the funds would be used for, a projected budget, specific improvements and three years of call volumes for the center.

After 30 days of notification, the PUC would then hold a hearing, if public comment deemed it necessary, and a vote. The change would be effective Jan. 1, 2011.