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Board weighs permanent commitment of adding 25 cents a month to phones to fund 911 infrastructure grants

“If we do the 25-cent fee, can we get back out of it?”

Idaho County Courthouse

Photo by David Rauzi
Idaho County Courthouse

— The county commission’s April 3 discussion involved the board weighing whether committing now to a 25 cents per line per month grant fee would be a permanent commitment.

“If we do the 25-cent fee, can we get back out of it?” commissioner Mark Frei asked Zumalt.

Idaho County emergency manager Jerry Zumalt said the county commissioners would still be the county’s 911 board, and thus such a decision would still be within their power.

“I’m always for private enterprise doing it,” commissioner Mark Frei said. “But I do think when you look at certain things of infrastructure, you have to say government had to be involved to make that happen. Look at the railroad, or the dams. I don’t think sheer private industry would have done some of those infrastructure things.”

The dispatch infrastructure upgrade proposal the commissioners heard March 27 is not just a matter of making it possible for people to text 911 and a matter of enabling communication to 911 in all kinds of ways cell phones make possible. According to the Idaho Public Safety Communications Commission, it’s also an effort aimed at heading off trouble keeping up the existing emergency communication system.

“NG 9-1-1 is a nationwide push to put in place a digital system prior to the analog system being no longer supportable from a cost and maintenance perspective,” Craig Logan, IPSCC 911 Program Manager recently told the Free Press.

Logan, who presented during the March 27 county commission meeting, elaborated as follows in an e-mail to the Free Press Friday, April 6.

“The next step is a digital connection that will replace the current analog system that serves all of 911,” Logan wrote. “This system is known as NG 9-1-1 and will transport images, photos, voice, and realtime text to 911. Currently, the mobile phone system is already digital and has to be converted back to analog for transport into the 911 centers…The systems that carry the analog signal are due to be phased out as they are no longer making replacement parts for them. These systems are known as Selective Routers and are housed at the telephone company hub for the area. Consequently, we either start preparing now or are forced later due to technology.”

“This is the reason for the move to the grant fee so that we can start to prepare all of the districts in Idaho,” Logan added. “It’s also the reason to lay in the transport network that [Dave] Taylor briefed at the first meeting.”

Ada, Bannock, Bonneville and Idaho counties are the only ones in the state not yet committed to collecting the grant fee. Logan also noted Moscow and Nampa are the only two cities in the state that do not currently collect the grant fee – the 25 cents per line per month about which the Idaho County Commission is currently undecided. He also noted 22 counties in Idaho have deployed the Text-to-911 service, with seven more using the grant fee to turn up Text-to-911 service in the next year with “minimal to no cost to local 911 funds.”

Logan also explained the per-phone number costs the IPSCC men presented to the commission on March 27 were based on a budgetary quote from a vendor and “intended to highlight the fact that the switch from analog to digital will result in increased cost based upon the change in technology.”

“The analog system copper wires have been in place almost 50 years,” Logan said. “Effectively a switch from copper wire to fiber will drive the cost of those lines up. The copper or analog lines are what connect to the current selective router and those will have to remain for proper routing of the 911 call to the correct [dispatch center] until we can go to geospatial routing. Consequently, this will require both [digital and analog] lines to be installed for a time which is the additional cost. The quicker we can get to geospatial routing and consolidate equipment, trunks, and lines the more we can save local counties and the taxpayer.”

Whether or not Idaho County will commit to the local fee to help fund building the new system still remained to be seen after the April 3 meeting. The board asked the clerk to put the same topic on the county commission agenda again April 17, which will follow a district interoperability governance board (DIGB) meeting April 13 in Grangeville.


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