Radio system board dissolves
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
May 28, 2013 | 3690 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties.  (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties. (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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OXFORD – A radio system that links emergency responders and public safety officials in Calhoun County has found a new home and potential source of funding.

The Alabama Regional Communication System Board of Directors voted to dissolve at a called meeting Tuesday. The decision allows the board to hand over to the Calhoun County 911 Board control of the 800 megahertz radio system connecting public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties.

“This process is going to be seamless for our users,” said Mike Fincher, a member of both the county 911 and Communication System boards. “This takeover is to assure service continues, and the transfer is done smoothly and effectively.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the final vote needed in a three-step process that started with the Calhoun County Commission approving the transfer of ownership, and the 911 board accepting the transfer last week. A timetable is in place now to have the 911 board take complete control of the system on Oct. 1.

The future of the system faced uncertainty after state lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would have paid to keep it running. The bill would have given residents of Talladega and Calhoun counties the chance to vote on a property tax increase, which would have provided the $4 million needed for an upgrade to the system.

Fincher said the 911 board could borrow through a loan or bond issue to pay for an upgrade, with the hope of user fees sustaining the system in the future.

Currently the system has 3,100 users including police and fire departments, schools and emergency responders, who pay $22.50 per month per radio to use the system.

Kevin Jenkins, the system’s administrator, said the 911 board will take over all of the system’s equipment, leases and employees.

“This will be perfectly seamless transfer from us to the 911 board,” Jenkins said. “The operation of the system on Sept. 30 will be the same on Oct. 1.”

While Calhoun County’s portion of the system has found a new home, Talladega County officials are still searching for a solution. As part of the dissolution, seven tower sites in Talladega County will be given back to the Talladega County Commission.

“We want to keep this system in Talladega County and keep this partnership with Calhoun County,” said Talladega police Chief Alan Watson, the chairman of the Communication System’s board of directors. “Where it ends up, we don’t know yet, but we’ll know soon.”

Watson said an oversight committee made up of Talladega County police chiefs has “somewhat of a plan” in place for a takeover, but did not want to make a public announcement Tuesday. He said he hoped the Talladega County Commission could approve a similar transfer before the end of June.

Federal funding established the 800 MHz system in the 1990s. The system was set up for first responders and public safety agencies to communication in case of emergencies arising from the Army’s chemical weapons stockpile in Anniston. Funding went away when the last of the weapons were destroyed in 2011.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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