The City Council says Orem will participate in an enhanced 911 telephone emergency system only if Orem is chosen as a dispatch center.

Utah County's emergency calls now are routed through Orem, and the city doesn't want to scrap its entire dispatch setup. Officials have proposed from two to five answering points for an enhanced, countywide system.Orem is paid $120,000 on a contract to provide emergency dispatch service for the county, said Ted Peacock, Orem chief of public safety. The same dispatchers take Orem calls at no additional cost.

"So we are getting a really good deal," City Manager Daryl Berlin said.

Council members are worried that if the rest of the county drops the existing system in favor of enhanced 911, Orem's operational costs would rise and revenue would fall.

Peacock said Orem handles about 35,000 calls a year. Of those, about 70 percent are not emergencies. Of the remaining 10,500, about 20 calls could have been handled better by the enhanced system, where a computer tells the dispatcher the location of the caller.

"It looks like the rest of the county will go with the system," Mayor Blaine Willes said. "Provo is already in, and I know Springville's mayor wants his city to join. I am concerned Orem not be viewed as obstructionist."

Council members said Orem-based emergency dispatchers have done an exceptional job over the years.

"I would rather have an emergency in Orem than any other city in the state," Councilman Keith Hunt said.

In addition to their financial concerns, council members said no other city had better-trained dispatchers.

So they informally agreed to join the E-911 system, if Orem could be an answering point. If Orem is not selected, it will keep its current system.

The enhanced system would be financed by a monthly 50-cent surcharge on each telephone line in the city. Council members agreed the 50-cent surcharge should be initiated soon, but the money should be kept in a trust fund until the dispatch centers are selected. They did not determine how the money would be used if Orem did not join the E-911 system.

Estimates of E-911 start-up costs are about $200,000 for computer equipment and phone lines, and $500,000 for each dispatch center on the system. After the installation, the telephone surcharge probably would drop to 38 cents per month.

"The current 911 system will keep the phone line open, so if the caller hangs up without giving the address, the call can be traced," Ted Peacock, Orem chief of public safety, said. "But that can take minutes or hours, which can be a problem in an emergency."