BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A move by the 911 Board Thursday night is paving the way to get to the final phase of the digital radio transition in Lee County.
The board voted to give the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Board $600,000 to offset the costs associated with the project, which carries a $6,3 million price tag.
The PSAP board is the taxing authority that will pass the cost of the bond on to all taxpayers in the county through a property tax levy.
That bond could be anywhere from $5,724,346 to $5,909,346, if the county decides to include in the bond Phase 3 engineering costs on the project as a reimbursement to the 911 board.
Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren originally asked for $750,000 to be allocated from the 911 board, but Houghton Fire Chief Jerry Bentler expressed concerns the board could be faced with shortfalls considering future maintenance costs and the new ambulance service coming to the county.
“Asking for $750K is a decision the board can’t make because we don’t know what kind of costs were going to incur. Potentially we’d be maxed out on the budget,” Bentler said.
The project cost comes with a 3-year warranty, in addition to the 18-month timeline of getting the project complete. The transition will bring in all new radios, pagers and infrastructure to convert the county from an analog system that has been giving first responders fits since narrowbanding by the FCC occurred eight years ago.
“We had a chase yesterday in town in Keokuk and our deputies couldn’t talk with dispatch,” said Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber. “We need to move on this now.”
Weber suggested reducing the amount for $750,000 to $600,000 to keep some money in 911 reserve funds. His suggestion was made into a motion by board member Brett Davis and seconded by West Point Police Chief Brad Roberts.
The motion passed 14-0 with three representative absent.
Discussion on the bonding and the project now goes in front of the Lee County Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday meeting.
Supervisor Matt Pflug sits on the 911 board and voted in favor of the $600,000 payment.
Herren said the amount of the bond would still be in the range of what he had proposed in presentations to city councils in the county.
“When I went to all the city councils and presented, this was in the range that we presented to those folks. We wanted to do this so we wouldn’t have to bond as much and we could keep the mill levy down,” Herren said.
After the warranty runs out in three years, maintenance costs are a minimum of $50,000 per year which is required to keep software congruent with the State of Iowa’s software.
After that the board can pay up to an average of $179,000 in additional maintenance coverages, but has the option of selecting which coverages they want so that amount could be reduced.