Wednesday, March 13, 2013

County to form interoperability group

Panel to seek funding options for radio system

Express Staff Writer

Despite what Blaine County commissioners called a “lack of good will” among users of the Blaine County consolidated dispatch center, commissioners agreed today to attempt to work with emergency responders and local governments to find ways to fund another facet of emergency communications—interoperability.

The commissioners met with local fire chiefs and law enforcement officials Tuesday to discuss not only a $68,800 bill received from Ada County for upgrades to the county’s 700 MHz radio system, but also how to pay for ongoing maintenance of that system.

County Administrator Derek Voss said during the meeting that after much discussion among himself, Blaine County E-911 Communications Coordinator Robin Stellers and staff at Ada County, he was able to determine that the charges were for software upgrades to Blaine County’s three radio sites.

“It is our portion, not to upgrade the master site, but to our sites,” he said.

The bill was somewhat unexpected, and the commissioners and staff said they had been hoping that the state would step in with funding for the system.

Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said the system was built in 2008 with grants from the Department of Homeland Security; later grants from the Department of Justice paid for 700 MHz radios to be issued to law enforcement agents in the valley.

Ramsey said he was working on a draft bill with the State Interoperability Executive Council to increase E-911 fees, the $1 paid on each phone line that goes to pay for emergency communications. The bill would increase the fee to $2 per line, part of which would go toward funding software upgrades and other ongoing costs of the 700 MHz system.

However, Ramsey said the bill would not be introduced in the Legislature this year, meaning the county will have to find another way to pay for maintenance and upgrades in the short term.

“[The timeline] was too fast to put together and [the bill was] too big of a monster,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Schoen suggested that while the county is working with first responders and the cities to determine funding going forward, the commissioners should consider simply paying the $68,800 bill and having other entities chip in for future expenses.

“I’m inclined to say maybe we should fund this in the first year,” he said. “I realize that’s not a good negotiating position, but to me, this is not about negotiation. It’s about doing what’s right.”

Ramsey suggested that the cost of ongoing maintenance could be based on the number of radios used per jurisdiction. 

Kate Wutz:

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