BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County Supervisors has given a nod to bond approximately $6 million to move forward with a digital radio overhaul for the county’s emergency responders.
Following a public hearing at Tuesday’s regular Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors approved issuing the bonds on a unanimous vote.
Board Chairman Ron Fedler said anyone can challenge the decision of the supervisors to spend the money by asking a judge to look at whether the supervisors exceeded their authority.
Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said it’s his opinion the board has the authority, but there is a stipulation that allows for the review.
The spend will result in a 18-24 month transition onto the state’s ISICS (Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System) system and will provide guaranteed 95% coverage in the county for all emergency responders.
The County E911 Board contributed $600,000 to the project from it’s funds to help keep the levy balance down. County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom said there could be additional savings if $100,000 of the E911 contribution were used to pay interest the first year.
Renstrom said that discussion would have to go back to the E911 board for their consideration. She also said the bonds could be a 10- to 12-year loan.
The contract for service will go to Motorola who’s been investigating and preparing proposals for the county in the initial phases of the work.
Chairman Ron Fedler said a financial sheet that was included in the packet indicated the tax rate on the spend would be about .35/$1,000 of assessed valuation on Lee County property. A $100,000 home is typically assessed at less than 60% when homestead and other deductions are figured in, so that homeowner would see an increase in taxes of close to $22 per year to pay for the radios.
Renstrom said the increase will be temporary as other bond issues start falling off the county’s debt service in 2023.
Only Chairman Ron Fedler said he had comments questioning the costs associated with the upgrades.
“I’m obligated to tell the board everything and not keep anything back and I did have some business people tell me they were very concerned about their taxes going up,” Fedler said.
“They agree we need it, but had issues spending that much money.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug said Motorola has done all its diligence on the project and it was time to move forward.
“This was studied very much in depth. Motorola has done a tremendous job,” he said. “We can’t have law enforcement in this county without radio service and we can’t have emergency personnel in this county without radio service.”
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said, on average, the radios work about 35% of the time they are keyed.
Fedler initially wanted to put the bonds in front of Lee County voters, but pulled back from that request after meeting with area emergency responders.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.
In other action, the board:
• voted, 5-0, to allow Matt Mohrfeld of Matt’s Greenhouse, to annex a portion of his county business property into the city. Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said that would amount to about an $11 loss in tax revenue for the county.
• voted, 5-0, to support a statement from the Lee County Board of Health asking for residents to mask up, socially distance and avoid large gatherings as the coronavirus surge continues.
• voted, 5-0, to allow the county’s new ambulance director to send out requests for proposals for six new ambulances as part of the transition to a county-owned EMS service.