Talladega County's portion of radio system uncertain
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jun 05, 2013 | 3663 views |  0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An 800 megahertz radio used by the Anniston Fire Department. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
An 800 megahertz radio used by the Anniston Fire Department. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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JACKSONVILLE – An upgrade that could make Calhoun County’s emergency radio system the most advanced in the state could be put on hold if Talladega County is unable to find an agency to take over its portion of the system.

At a called work session Wednesday, the Calhoun County 911 Board of Commissioners met with Motorola Senior Account Manager Brad Johnson, to discuss a contract to upgrade the 800 megahertz system used by public safety and emergency response agencies throughout the county.

Johnson proposed the board upgrade the system in two phases, updating from Motorola’s 7.4 system to 7.7 before the year’s end, and next year upgrading to the 7.14 system. The system was last updated in 2005.

“I ask you how many computers or laptops are you still using that you purchased in 2005?” Johnson said. “Not too many. You need to keep updating computers so they have the best possible response.”

Johnson said it is imperative the board act quickly. June 30 is the deadline to enter into the contract to begin an upgrade before the end of the year, putting the system in line for a second upgrade by March when the 7.14 system begins shipping. The back-to-back upgrades will also prevent the 800 MHz system from going to a costly complete overhaul, which would also shut down communication until the upgrade is complete.

That June 30 deadline puts pressure on Talladega County, said Talladega police Chief Alan Watson, chairman of the Alabama Regional Communication System’s board of directors. The board of directors voted last month to dissolve, giving the Calhoun County portion of the radio system to the County 911 board, while Talladega County’s portion of system remains in limbo.

“We’re pushing for it, but I don’t feel comfortable saying it’s going to happen,” Watson said. “We’re likely going to need more time.”

Johnson said Calhoun County 911 could enter into a single contract, making it responsible for Talladega’s portion of the system, based on the contingency that the contract would be split once Talladega County officials found a home for the system. County 911 Chairman Mike Fincher said that would be difficult from a legal standpoint, as the board would enter into contract involving property in Talladega County it does not own.

Another option, Johnson said, might be entering into a contract that could be nullified if Talladega County does not find an agency to take over the system.

Fincher said the board’s attorney, Jason Odom, would have to be involved with the legal discussions involving the contract.

The 800 MHz system’s administrator, Kevin Jenkins, presented cost estimates of the project showing Calhoun County’s portion of the upgrade to total just over $3 million. Johnson said Motorola could offer a two-year deferral on payments, with a 10-year payback plan. With interest, the system would cost the board an estimated $280,000 annually. Fincher said the two-year deferral would give the board time to expand the system’s user base and collect fees to pay off the upgrade.

The 911 board took over the 800 MHz system last month after the Alabama Regional Communication System voted to dissolve due to lack of funds to upgrade the system. The Communication System had hoped legislation that sought a referendum to raise property tax for residents in Calhoun and Talladega counties would have upgraded the system, but the measure failed to pass in Montgomery.

Federal funding initially paid for the system in the 1990s, when the Army kept its chemical weapons stockpile in Anniston. Funding stopped after the last of the weapons were destroyed in 2011.

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

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