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Emergency dispatch costs could double next year

­by Brian Orr

WALSENBURG- At the inter-governmental meeting known as the CCT, Director of Emergency Dispatch Don Mercier laid out to county leaders two different scenarios as to what next year’s budget for emergency services could cost.

    Due to staffing increases and equipment upgrades, Mercier is asking for $440,470 for the 2010 budget,up from the 2009 budget of $233,038.

    The 2009 budget was essentially a best-guess estimate, as it was the first time it was handled by the County.  The estimate was based on what it cost the City of Walsenburg to run the dispatch center. However, when the county took over dispatch operations and hired Mercier to manage the system, he found antiquated equipment and not enough staff to handle emergency calls 24/7.

    The inter-governmental agency agreement in effect throughout the county is each emergency entity (fire departments, ambulance, police, sheriff) would pay $25 each time they were paged out.  These costs are passed on to Huerfano citizens.  To afford next year’s budget, these agencies would have to pay $39.36 per page-out, a budget-buster for smaller entities like the La Veta fire department, which struggles to balance buying equipment and gas versus paying for page-outs.

    The way out of the economic gut-punch is pass a county-wide one cent sales tax, which would also be paid by tourists and travelers passing through Huerfano County, Mercier argued.  He didn’t have to argue hard, as all the collective administrators were already on board with the idea when the tax increase was first proposed last November.

    A one-cent tax is estimated to raise $540,000, enough to eliminate any agency from having to pay for their page-outs, plus be able to purchase badly needed new equipment, and hire two additional dispatchers.  Every penny of this tax would go to emergency dispatch services.

    The CCT group also heard from Meri Hanley from the Department of Health on an update for swine flu vaccinations in Huerfano County.  She said the vaccine will be distributed per capita, decided at the State level.  For up to the minute updates, see their website,

www.la-h-heath.org.

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