After years of planning and research, emergency and county services personnel is one step closer to having a countywide two-way communications system.
The county commission approved the appropriation of $8.35 million from the local capital projects fund for the endeavor on Feb. 25, with 23 affirmative votes and one abstaining vote.
“I can support this expenditure. I know that there are dead spots in this county,” said Commissioner Merrol Hyde who recounted, as superintendent of schools, inspecting the roads during snowy days and sleeping with a radio to track school events and losing signal.
The bid submitted by the company Communications International itemizes the price components of the six-channel APCO P-25 UHF trunked communications system and totals 825 pages.
Now approved, equipment will be built over a period of several months after ordering and will then go through a testing period. A ‘go-live’ date will follow a successful testing period and is expected to take a year, or perhaps a little longer, according to Ken Weidner, director of the Emergency Management Agency.
“A system like this is something that is not like a system just sitting on a shelf,” he said.
Once completed, entities of the county and city police forces, volunteer fire departments, the highway department, EMA, EMS and Sumner County Schools can join if they choose.
System improvements began in the 2000s with the construction of seven federally-funded towers. Two additional towers have been built and one will be installed on Bethel Road in Goodlettsville and another in Oak Grove, according to Weidner.
More communications discussion took place in March 2017, followed by a meeting with members of the sheriff’s office, Sumner County Schools, volunteer fire, EMA, EMS and the highway department to discuss needs.
Vendors began pitching in August and in July 2018 the Emergency Services Committee voted for the process to move to a bid stage for price perspective. Specifics in areas such as capacity and coverage were drafted and the system went out to bid that November.
During that time it was decided that the communications shelters, which house equipment for the towers, needed to be upgraded and $650,000 was granted to do so.
“I feel confident with the due diligence we’ve done and we’ve been extremely frugal in regards to spending taxpayer money,” Weidner said.
Maintenance and upkeep fees for the system would total just over $5 million over 15 years. In addition to annual system maintenance, this also includes annual software updates. This sum is not factored into the appropriated fund and Weidner said he believes it can be negotiated.
Com. Jeremy Mansfield referenced this cost and costs to come for the new schools and made a motion to amend the resolution. The amendment was to require each department using the equipment to pay a portion, exempting the volunteer fire departments.
“I just want to ensure that we don’t put ourselves in danger of there’s no new money having to be spent that we don’t have, that we haven’t planned for, and that we don’t put the citizens at risk of another tax increase,” he said.
Com. Chris Taylor, budget committee chairman, acknowledged the need to establish a payment system and said that it was something that was being factored in.
“That’s something we’ll have to look at definitely, but it’s not going to be a tax increase. If we have to do a tax increase for $200,000 we’re in a lot worse trouble than that,” he said.
Safety a concern for everyone
Regardless of budget talk, safety was a concern.
Commissioner Terry Wright, a deputy with the sheriff’s office, spoke about communications dead spots and resulting safety. He asked for anyone in the room to stand if they had ever been in an emergency situation and could not use their radio. He was joined by a number of emergency personnel in attendance.
“There’s a lot of y’all that I had not walked in your shoes, but there’s a lot of y’all who have not walked in ours,” he said. “It’s not just the people who stand up, my men and women, it’s for every citizen in this county for their safety and their security.”