PROVO — A special service district governing Utah County emergency dispatch operations moved closer to reality last week after a public hearing by the Utah County Commission.

Representatives from Utah County cities spoke in favor of a proposal to establish a Utah Valley dispatch special service district intended to serve their communities.

"We've been wrastling with dispatch costs over the past six, seven years," Highland City Administrator and Lone Peak Public Safety District Executive Director Barry Edwards said. "We've met with the sheriff, we've met with all the chiefs in north Utah County, we've met with all of the city managers and administrators in Utah County. This is the first proposal that we've seen that seems to satisfy all of the concerns that we have relative to dispatch."

The proposal calls for the establishment of a single jurisdiction in Utah County responsible for public safety dispatch. And rather than having its decisions dictated by the county commission or the sheriff, the body would be controlled by a board of appointed representatives from the associated cities. The board would also have taxing authority to cover operational costs. In the past, cities using Utah County dispatch services were billed on a call-by-call basis.

"The actual cost (to the county) was greater than what was being billed," County Commissioner Larry Ellertson said.

Even if all goes as planned, though, the decision to give taxing authority to the special jurisdiction will still have to pass through the hands of voters in November. And if the proposal passes, it will be nearly a year before revenue from those taxes will start coming in, Ellertson said.

"Given what's happened in recent weeks in Lehi city, public safety — specifically public safety dispatch — is of utmost importance to us, and I know the other city managers and administrators in this county," said Jim Davidson, Lehi city administrator.

Davidson was referring to the shooting of Lehi Police Capt. Harold Terry at a traffic stop three weeks ago by a 39-year-old woman from Washington state. Prior to the stop, a gas station attendant contacted police dispatch when the shooter, Kelly Wark, appeared impaired while filling up her car. She was later fatally shot by responding backup Lehi officers.

"The sheriff took the laboring oar on this and really went forward," County Commissioner Gary Anderson said. "We think that this is a workable solution. There are some entities in this valley that will not be involved in this, Provo, Orem and Pleasant Grove most notably, and that's fine."

Both Provo and Orem operate recently upgraded state-of-the-art dispatch centers. At the same time, however, Commissioner Steve White hopes the time comes in the future when all of the county's public safety answering points, or 911 call centers, will be governed from the same source.

"We're not looking at just one dispatch center for the county forever," he said. "We're looking at one governing entity in the county, and hopefully what that will permit is the right person to go to the right address to do the right thing in every case in the county."

Sheriff James Tracy said one of the most overlooked benefits of such a proposal is the unifying of information. He said there is a "quick and readily available exchange of information between jurisdictions when it comes from a connected source."

"The key to good public safety starts with dispatch," he added. " If it's wrong there, it's wrong the rest the way up until somebody can figure out what went wrong."


E-mail: jdavis@desnews.com