County agrees to buy radios in 911 upgrade
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — In a move that local officials say will aid 911 consolidation discussions, Rowan County will include radios for the city of Salisbury in its $3.4 million upgrade.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to buy 946 hand-held and portable radios for the county, along with 50 radios for the Salisbury Fire Department.
Thanks to discounts from Motorola, the county is getting 548 high-quality submersible radios at $3,700 each instead of $5,000.
“It’s actually little less than the ones we originally would be purchasing,” said County Telecommunications Director Rob Robinson. “Those (original radios) were not the level of submersibility the firefighters wanted, but they were in the budget and we had that covered.”
The county’s order alone came in $128,572 under budget. The order of 50 new portable radios for the city of Salisbury will cost another $185,000.
This puts the radio project $56,428 over budget. County Manager Gary Page said the county can pay the difference with revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax approved by Rowan County voters in November 2009.
The tax will help pay for the county’s emergency communications project, which includes these radio replacements and a new $1.7 million 911 center.
County and city officials have been in talks about consolidating their 911 dispatch services under Rowan County’s roof – and possibly its management. Page said buying the radios will help move the negotiations along, and Salisbury’s interim city manager, Doug Paris, agreed.
“At some point, one side has to trust and step out in faith that the other side will do the right thing in these discussions,” Paris said after the meeting. “I think this was a step out by the county, and I think we’ll return that in a positive fashion.”
Salisbury had asked the county to buy 65 upgraded radios for its fire department, but the city lowered its request to 50 after speaking with Page.
Fire officials say the specialized radios will help keep firefighters safe because they resist water damage and are easier to use with gear. The city last upgraded its radios two years ago, Page said.
The board first approved the purchase of Rowan County’s radios by a vote of 5-0. After some discussion, they then voted 3-2 to buy 50 radios for Salisbury.
At Monday’s meeting, Chairman Chad Mitchell said the city might agree to drop a $140,000 annual user fee that the county pays to use the city’s prime site.
The county could build its own prime site, which is needed for the radio system to work, but that would probably cost between $3 million and $5 million.
“If we are able to spend $185,000, potentially save $140,000 (per year), and certainly not have to build a prime site, it is going to be cheaper for the taxpayers,” Mitchell said. “And I guess we’re a little over a barrel… with the fact that we don’t have enough time to get our own site up and running.”
Commissioner Jon Barber said the county should buy the radios to give people in the city of Salisbury the same quality of fire service as the rest of the county.
Commissioner Jim Sides moved that the board delay discussion of buying the city’s radios to a later meeting. Vice Chair Carl Ford seconded, but the motion was voted down by Barber, Mitchell and Commissioner Raymond Coltrain.
“This discount is only applicable to a purchase order we issue by the end of this month,” Barber said.
Sides and Ford then voted against the purchase.
Two weeks ago, Sides said, the city indicated they would sign a memorandum of understanding that included dropping the $140,000 annual user fee. In return, the county would take over a $400,000 payroll for the city’s dispatchers, who would move into the county’s new 911 center.
He said the radios weren’t part of that discussion as he knew it.
“I’m not seeing a good faith effort on the part of the city,” Sides said. “I don’t like the fact that every time we turn around, they keep putting in additional qualifications.”
Paris later said that the radio upgrade is one of many issues he has discussed with Page in the past couple weeks. Others include the prime site user fee, the location of a backup 911 center and the possibility of dedicated dispatchers for Salisbury police and fire.
Also at Monday’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the sale of refunding bonds, series 2011.
The $17.99 million refunding bonds will save the county about $960,840 by refinancing 2003 bonds issued for school construction, according to county documents.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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