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Ball in PUC’s court on 911 surcharge increase

Following a trip to Denver by Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr last week, the Attorney General’s office now has three weeks to decide if it will pursue existing objections over Archuleta County’s push to raise its 911 surcharge from 70 cents to $1.25.

A July 30 motion by the Attorney General’s office concerning whether or not an application for the proposed increase in the Archuleta County emergency telephone surcharge satisfied necessary burdens of proof and the three-week waiting period is lessening the chances for the possible change taking effect Jan. 1, 2011.

Because of the motion, a pretrial hearing was set for Sept. 15 in Denver to discuss a procedural schedule, hearing dates for the application, as well as other details of the hearing format.

Instead of setting the schedule, the judge stated that the case was the third in a row in which the PUC has filed an objection, Starr explained, adding that the judge noted the outcome of the other cases — the PUC dropped objections after scheduling.

The office now has three weeks to determine if it will continue its objections in Archuleta County’s push to increase the surcharge.

Starr said he was hopeful that, since Archuleta County Combined Dispatch Manager Jay English thoroughly answered between 20-25 questions before last week’s hearing, the Attorney General’s office would have the information to remove its objections.

Starr was also encouraged by the presence of a director of another 911 entity there to support Archuleta County on behalf of a number of 911 agencies.

“It was gratifying to see we have the support of other 911 facilities around the state,” Starr said.

On June 23, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners applied to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to increase the surcharge from 70 cents to $1.25 per month per phone line for landline, wireless and voice-over-Internet accounts based out of Archuleta County.

The motion to intervene filed by the Attorney General’s office, as counsel for the PUC, states that trial staff of the PUC requested a hearing and noted that among the issues that it will “raise and address” are:

• Whether the BoCC satisfied its burden of proof to demonstrate that the increased revenue from the surcharge increase would be sufficient to purchase, update and maintain 911 system equipment and software; and

• Whether the BoCC “satisfied its burden of proof to demonstrate the increased expense for a portion of the total construction costs of the Emergency Operations Center is appropriate.”

In the meantime, ACCD continues to deal with regularly failing equipment and the task of finding and preparing a new facility (it was determined that the current Emergency Operations Center would be inadequate, even after renovations).

While alternative funding for the equipment is not concrete, ACCD is still on course to purchase new equipment.

randi@pagosasun.com