FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voiced concerns Sept. 1 about changing a plan to improve emergency radio communications that was presented and approved by the county Budget Advisory Committee.

County Commission Chairman Gary McGrane of Jay said he was not in favor the plan to buy a new dispatch console with four dispatch positions this year because it is not in the current plan.

Commissioner Charles Webster of Farmington said he needed to meet with Stan Wheeler, director of the county’s Regional Communications Center, to discuss the issues with him before making a decision. He was appointed commissioner in August and did not participate in 2015-16 budget discussions.

Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong was absent because of a medical appointment.

McGrane and Webster agreed to postpone making a decision on a request to buy a new console for $140,000 that could be financed over five years.

Numerous deficiencies were identified in the county’s emergency radio communications system and a comprehensive plan was developed to create a more viable system. When problems arose in the past, they were fixed in a piecemeal fashion.

Both commissioners and Budget Committee approved $73,200 in this year’s budget to pay for part of the communications upgrade. About $62,000 of a 2014 Homeland Security grant and $27,000 in tax-increment funds will also go toward this year’s phase. The total for the multiphase project to improve communications countywide is $488,000.

Of that amount, about $20,000 is to be used to upgrade and expand the capability of the 10-year-old dispatch console. The upgrade will not extend the life of it, Wheeler previously said.

One recommendation a study made was to install and build a radio-over-Internet protocol to do emergency radio calls over the Internet, Wheeler said. Several problems were identified that have hampered getting signals to emergency responders for a number of reasons, including repeaters, radios and mountainous terrain.

There is an opportunity to buy a new console with four positions from Zetron for $140,000 with 100 percent financing over a five-year period, Wheeler said. Members of a dispatch committee reviewed consoles from different companies. One from Motorola would cost about $300,000, he said.

After talking with county Clerk Julie Magoon, Wheeler said it appears they could get half the money for the console from the money the county receives for the tax-increment financing program. The TIF is with TransCanada in connection to Kibby Wind Power in northern Franklin County. The remainder of the money, which would be about $70,000, not including interest, could be financed over five years, Wheeler said.

The first payment would be due July 1, 2016.

Wheeler’s concern, he said, is if they spend $20,000 to $30,000 to upgrade the console and then turn around and buy a new one, it would be wasting money.

McGrane said it appeared that by buying a new console, they would be getting ahead of this year’s scheduled plan. He suggested postponing this year’s plan or buying the console next year.

The console is the linchpin of the communications upgrade, along with work on the Mosher tower, Wheeler said.

There would be no gain just by putting in the console, he said. If they postpone Phase 1, he said, they risk losing the Homeland Security grant funds. The plan for the money, which needs to be spent by Aug. 31, 2016, is to improve tower facilities.

If they propose to change the plan, Tim Hardy, director of county Emergency Management Agency, said they would need to go back to the dispatch advisory committee and then reapply. An environmental and historic study will need to be done, which they are prepared to do.

Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said he is concerned about his deputies if the upgrade is delayed. In several areas in Franklin County, deputies cannot receive or communicate with dispatchers.

“What am I going to tell the family of an officer,” if something happens — “Well, we didn’t have enough money?” he said.

If commissioners are reluctant to finance the console, they should go with the upgrade/expansion, Wheeler said.

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