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Fix for radio problems may cost $85,000


July 17, 2013
Problems that resulted from the federal government's requirement that public safety land mobile radio operators switch to narrowband frequencies could cost Crawford County up to $85,000 to correct.

Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Allen told the county council last Tuesday night that, since complying with the Federal Communications Commission's order that licensees utilizing channels between 150 and 174 MHz and 421 and 512 MHz switch to 12.5 kHz or a similarly efficient technology, emergency communications in the county have been spotty.

Allen said some law enforcement officers and volunteer firemen have experienced their pagers not going off. The bigger problem, he said, is some emergency personnel cannot respond to dispatchers using their two-way radios. The issues are the result of the narrow frequencies being unable to pass across the county's hilly terrain.

"It's really an issue, a safety issue," Allen told the council during its monthly meeting at the judicial complex in English. "Something's got to be done."

After consulting with representatives from communications companies as well as Harrison County EMA Director Greg Reas for help in finding a solution, Allen suggested the county, which has just one repeater, at English, add up to three more.

Allen said the consensus is to upgrade the main system at English and then add the repeaters one at a time, with the first on the county's tower at Leavenworth. While he believes that a repeater will have to be added in the Milltown/Marengo area, installing one at Leavenworth first, where he is certain one is needed, as the Leavenworth and Alton areas have particularly poor coverage, would allow him to be sure, he said.

Following the Leavenworth repeater, Allen recommended that a repeater be installed in the Eckerty area to help with coverage on the west end of the county and then, if needed, in the Milltown/Marengo area.

"It's not a cure-all of everything simply because we live in Crawford County with all the hills and hollers," he said. "It'll probably get up to 95 percent."

Despite wanting to add the repeaters on an as-needed basis, Allen said it would be best to bid the entire project simultaneously so that the company could be able to engineer everything at the same time, ensuring that all of the components work with one another.

He anticipates the entire project, from the computer system at English to the purchase and installation of three repeaters, could cost about $85,000, but added that, by including a stipulation in the bid that the county would actually only buy what it needs, it would be less if all three repeaters were not needed.

Councilman Steve Bartels wondered if the county's current towers could be expanded, which would help the radio signals clear the terrain.

"What are our tower heights?" he asked.

Allen at first said either 120 feet or 180 feet, but later, after making a call, said all but one, including the tower at English with the lone repeater, are 180 feet. Only the 120-foot tower can have another 60-foot section added, he said.

Councilman Joey Robinson noted that the federal government may mandate additional narrowbanding, which would further reduce coverage in the county if nothing is done.

The council told Allen that, while it will not formally approve a dollar amount for the project until the board of commissioners takes bids, it would be in favor of providing the funding. It most likely will be paid with Orange County Riverboat Fund monies.

In other business, the council:

•Was notified by Perry Leonard, superintendent of the county highway department, he likely will need to request about $40,000 of additional funds due to damage from the recent flash floods.

District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who was in the audience, said the county is keeping track of the dollar total in hopes of being reimbursed by the federal government.

Allen said the county commissioners signed a declaration of emergency but none of the surrounding counties did.

•Voted 6-0 (Jim Taylor was absent) to approve the advertised additional appropriation requests, as well as the requested transfers.

•Voted 6-0 to amend the salary ordinance to include $41.77 per hour for a part-time deputy prosecutor.

Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg received permission in June to fund the position with monies from her department, after telling the council that Greg Inman, the office's chief deputy, will be leaving soon. She wanted his replacement to work part time while he was still there in order to get familiar with the office.

•Voted 5-1 (Doug McLain against) to preliminarily approve Auditor Ricki Hawkins' request to have $6,200 of the funding appropriated for the unfilled secretary position at the Extension Office transferred to her office in order to hire a part-time employee.

Hawkins said the person hired will assume the position currently held by Dottie Parke, who is retiring at the end of the year after 29 years with the county. Hawkins said she wanted to hire the person now on a part-time basis so Parke could train them.

Hawkins said there would be enough funding left to pay an Extension Office secretary, if one is hired.

•Scheduled a 2014 budget workshop for Friday, Aug. 16, to begin at 8 a.m., at the judicial complex.

The council's next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. at the judicial complex.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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