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Supervisors approve $5 million radio plan

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Carroll County will spend about $5 million over the course of the next decade to pay for a new radio communications system for dispatchers, law-enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and others.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to approve a lease-to-own agreement with Motorola.

The county expects to spend about $490,000 each year for the system, but it doesn’t have to make its first payment for about a year.

The supervisors had a brief discussion about how to pay for the system Monday but didn’t reach a conclusion.

“I don’t know that we can delay the approval of this project any longer, simply because of the $500,000 reduction in cost,” Supervisor Dean Schettler said, in reference to a discount Motorola offered if the county inked an agreement by Monday. “Down the road we can decide how to pay for this.”

Bock estimates that the cost per household for the new radio system is about $56 per year, but the actual tax implications for residents is unclear.

The most-recent upgrades to the current radio system happened about 20 years ago, said Jason Hoffman, the county’s communications supervisor. At the time, new signal repeaters were installed on towers across the county, but they have required those who use them to manually switch channels when going from tower to tower.

Further, the current system lacks good reception in valleys and inside buildings.

“The county sheriff can’t even use the radio system from the bowling alley here in town,” Supervisor Rich Ruggles said.

The new system will have much-improved reception, and its radios will automatically switch to the closest towers.

“It’s an issue of safety, not only for the responders, but it’s an issue of safety for the constituents of this county,” Supervisor Gene Meiners said. “It’s expensive, but we’ve got a mess right now.”

The decision to spend millions on a new radio station comes weeks after the supervisors approved a bid to build a new jail that was about $4 million more than initial estimates. They hope to cover that gap by shaving about $550,000 from the cost and by agreeing to pay a higher interest rate to its bond investors for up-front payments from the investors.

The supervisors had initially expected to, in essence, borrow up to $1.9 million more than the $9 million voters approved in a bond referendum last year, but an uptick in the bond market means investors are less likely to pay that much up-front.

A clear borrowing plan has yet to materialize.

Supervisors have also considered selling county-owned farmland that could net an estimated $1 million and tapping into the county’s reserves for an additional $500,000.

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