In response to a 98% increase in emergency calls and a 42% increase in calls for service since 2010 the Aspen-Pitkin County Emergency Telephone Service Authority has submitted an application to the State Public Utilities Commission to increase the monthly, per line 9-1-1 surcharge from $1.25 to $2.00. The increased funding will support capital investments, equipment maintenance and staffing for the Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center. The Dispatch Center in Aspen supports emergency dispatches for all nine fire and law agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The last time a 9-1-1 surcharge increase was instituted was 10 years ago in 2009,” said Pitkin County Sheriff's Office 911 Commander, Brett Loeb. “At that time Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch answered 5,656 calls to 9-1-1. By the year 2017 the number of 9-1-1 calls answered grew to 11,144. Incidents we dispatched grew from 50,292 in 2010 (the earliest full year data) to 71,448 in 2017,” Loeb said.
The Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch Center, along with emergency communication centers across the country, are faced with replacing antiquated 9-1-1 infrastructure. Landlines and mechanical circuits are being replaced by internet-operated equipment. The new equipment will allow increased accessibility to 9-1-1, more advanced caller location determination and enhanced backcountry communication in emergencies.
“Our efforts to provide more efficient service for all citizens who need to call 9-1-1 come at a price,” Loeb said. “It’s not just the cost of new equipment and infrastructure, it’s also the cost of hiring and training dispatchers on the sophisticated internet-based equipment.”
The funds from the increased surcharge will help offset the cost of replacing the Emergency Dispatch Center’s current landline telephone system with next-generation 9-1-1 equipment which is estimated to be $400,000. Surcharge funds will also be used to replace the emergency two-way radio system and upgrade translator towers to support 800-band digital trunked radio. Last year, Emergency Dispatch instituted and tested the Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), and upgraded the public notification software used for Pitkin Alert, which also put a strain on the Emergency 9-1-1 budget.
“Staffing the 9-1-1 center has always been a struggle,” Loeb admitted. “The surcharge increase will help ensure the dispatch center has funding for a full staff, which means at least three dispatchers in the center from 7 am to 3 am and two from 3 am to 7 am. Currently, and for many years, the center has run with one ‘call-taker’ and one ‘dispatcher’ during most hours, and then one person, who does both jobs, during the early morning hours. We cannot provide the service our citizens deserve and expect if we are short-staffed,” Loeb said.
Pitkin County 911 Dispatcher Steven Rowles on the job.
The dollars raised from the additional surcharge will also take the strain off of the nine public safety agencies who make up the Emergency Telephone Authority who have been shouldering the burden of the increased costs to support comm center operations. The agencies included in the Telephone Authority are Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Aspen Police Department, Aspen Fire Protection District, Aspen Ambulance District, Snowmass Village Police Department, Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, Basalt Police Department, Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District and Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.
“This increase will help secure the sustainability of our Comm Center for many years to come, and ensure that our valley receives reliable emergency communications when they matter most,” said Comm Board Chairman and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor.
Brett Loeb - Pitkin County Sheriff's Office 911 Commander - 970-471-5237