The Stokes County Board of Commissioners has approved a $2.4 million communications upgrade which will allow the county to meet new federally-mandated radio requirements and move the county E-911 Communications Center to a more secure location.
County officials have been discussing the project for several months, and on Monday the board approved Motorola’s proposals for the console and paging upgrades and approved a total cost of the project. The county will purchase somewhere under 500 radios. The commissioners also approved the relocation of the communications center to the Government Center, which was an optional addition to the project.
To preface the presentation, County Manager Rick Morris said lightheartedly that he had checked last week to see if the requirements had changed, but no. The communications upgrade to narrow-banding for all mobile radios used by first responders is still required by January or the county could face fines, loss of radio communications and revocation of licenses.
The total cost of the project will be around $2.4 million, with $212,000 of that attributed to relocation costs. The loan will be $1,675,000, with around $300,000 available from the E911 Fund and $537,500 from the Capital Reserve Fund. Up to $2 million in loans was budgeted.
As explained by Morris, the county did not receive notification until June that it would not receive a grant for the upgrade. This has placed the county on a tight schedule. A working group of county administrators, public safety officials and emergency responders was formed months ago to assess needs and put together plans for the transition.
The county opted to go with radios from Motorola after extensive research. Morris said the county had to go with the 6000 model portable radio, because the 4000 may not work well with surrounding counties until they change some of their systems.
The Motorola rep on hand, Dale Nunn, said, “You will have one of the best systems in the country.”
Motorola has also agreed to offer people the discounted price through the end of the year in case an individual wants to buy extra radios.
The ideal time to relocate the E-911 center was when new equipment would need to be installed anyway, Morris suggested. The roughly $212,000 relocation cost can be attributed to increased console costs plus items such as an electrician, architect, grounding of the equipment, HVAC upgrade and backup generator power. The center is currently in a manufactured building constructed in 1996, which has a projected 20-year life. The recent move of Forsyth Tech from the County Government Center opened up space.
Commissioner Jimmy Walker asked if any of the equipment at the current center could be moved to the new location, and Morris replied, “Almost none of it.”
Morris recommended the communications move be made now, because if it were postponed into the future, the new radio consoles would have to be uninstalled and reinstalled. Also, the move to a location close to the sheriff’s office will save officers time and will be safer. Morris also thinks it will improve employee morale.
“I think there’s a pretty sound justification for moving,” Morris remarked.
Commissioner Leon Inman said he did not know why E911 was ever located elsewhere. He said, “To me it’s certainly a very prudent move. I think we need to do it, and we need to do it soon.”
Board Chairman Ernest Lankford agreed that if the county is ever going to move the center, now is the ideal time to do it.
Public safety and emergency response officials delivered their thoughts on Monday, and they were supportive of the entire project.
Morris recommended a 59-month loan, because that would exempt the county from needing to get Local Government Commission approval, which would slow down the process. His goal is to get the specific financing information to the commissioners at their Sept. 24 meeting for approval. The figures included in the proposal on Monday were estimated using a 4 1/2 percent interest rate, but the county is hoping to get a lower rate when it sends out a request for proposals.
King is looking at a separate purchase order for its radios. Morris said if the city gets a bad interest rate, it will piggy-back on the county’s loan. Walnut Cove is included in the county plan, and the town will pay the county back over two years.
Also during the meeting:
• Morris reported that the “ice pigging” process used to clean pipes in Danbury was a “major success.” The project was completed last week, and Morris said people are already seeing a difference in the quality of their water.
• The board approved a resolution in support of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council’s desire to construct a new facility instead of continuing to rent two offices. Lankford said the county does not have any financial obligation.
• The commissioners set a list of goals to send to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. The goals included doing away with unfunded mandates, changing sales tax back to point of delivery instead of point of origin, encouraging job creation through less regulation, restoring lottery funding back to its original level, reinstating Hold Harmless funds, opposing any efforts to move transportation to the responsibility of counties, avoiding any legislation that weakens local control, and keeping mental health funding at current levels.