Amy Phan writes:
Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal members say they are caught up with their payments to Kitsap County Central Communications, the county’s 911 dispatching service.
“The Board seems to think that we are delinquent in our payments,” Jeromy Sullivan, S’Klallam Tribe chairman, wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to CenCom. “We are not.”
In the latest development in a dispute over a $42,000 bill, Sullivan wrote in the letter that the tribe made three payments to CenCom for dispatching services: $17,285 for 2011, $14,787 for 2010 and $13,550 for 2009.
The letter came in response to a CenCom board meeting on Sept. 20. Board members discussed whether to continue dispatching services to the S’Klallam Tribe even though CenCom believes it has $42,000 outstanding in unpaid dues.
Board members decided to continue 911 dispatching services to the tribe and work out a repayment schedule.
But that’s not what the S’Klallam Tribe wants.
“The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes does not need to arrange catch-up payments,” Sullivan wrote. “We are already caught up and have paid our fair share of 911 CenCom services.”
Tribe members are challenging CenCom’s new fee structure, implemented this year.
Under the new fee structure, the S’Klallam Tribe’s per-call rate went from $5.43 per call in 2010 to $18.35 this year, according to Sullivan.
For the reservation’s 1200 residents (about 600 are members of the tribe), the new fee structure is “flawed and is biased against the little guy,” according to Sullivan.
The tribe is asking CenCom’s 13-board member to institute a flat, per-call rate for dispatching services.
But some of CenCom’s board members feel that proposal should have been made in 2009, when a majority of fee restructuring took place. Sullivan became the S’Klallam chairman in 2009, but he has served on tribal council since 2006.
CenCom director Richard Kirton said he had a meeting with the tribe’s police chief and assistant police chief in 2009 about the possibility of a new fee structure.
Kirton recalled members of the tribe’s police department saying they didn’t think tribal members would be happy with the increase, but that they would pay it.
Kirton said he extended numerous invitations to the tribe to participate in the fee restructuring process, but it did not respond.
“This is why we are at the point we are today,” Kirton said. “There was a lot of data exchange. A lot of philosophy was discussed, a lot of difficult elements are looked at in context and it’s difficult to distill that down to one hour and get everyone on the same page.”
He believes the tribe has paid “what they (S’Klallam tribe) want to pay.”
The $50,000 buy-in fee was meant to “rebalance” the inequity some under the old formula, Kirton said.
“It didn’t matter how large or small (dispatching area was), but there would be a base fee how everybody pays,” he said.
Board members decided on the $50,000 “buy-in” amount after looking at a variety of factors, such as dispatcher costs or the costs of each government pursuing its own 911 dispatching services.
“(The $50,000) is not a magic number, it could have easily been $30,000 or $70,000,” Kirton said.
CenCom board members will discuss this issue in its January board meeting.
Also up for discussion at the board meeting will be revisiting how contracts between agencies and CenCom are approved, said Patty Lent, Bremerton mayor and CenCom board member.
Any fee or structural changes are supposed to be discussed and agreed upon by the respective tribal or city councils.
But that process didn’t take place in many instances, including with the S’Klallam Tribe.
“When (the contract process) gets done, we may be seeing a different picture,” Lent said on Tuesday.
CenCom board members make decisions on CenCom’s budget including funding, cost-share distribution and other duties, according to an interlocal agreement that governs how CenCom operates with the governments and agencies it serves.
Click this link to see a pdf of the letter the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe sent the CenCom board: port gamble s’klallam tribe letter to cencom