Carroll County might spend more than $4 million to replace its antiquated radio system that is used by dispatchers, law-enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and others to communicate with each other.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to decide next week whether to proceed with a project proposal that would greatly increase the county’s radio coverage and eliminate the need for people to manually switch their equipment to communicate with the closest tower.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this radio system is long overdue,” Supervisor Rich Ruggles said.
The question is how to pay for it. The county is already poised to spend millions of dollars more than expected to build a new downtown jail over the course of the next year and a half.
The supervisors can opt to buy the radio system outright from Motorola or make lease-to-own payments for up to 10 years.
The new system has a price tag of about $4.4 million. Motorola is offering a $560,000 discount if the supervisors approve an agreement with the company by Sept. 27, but that’s contingent on the county adding a 10-year maintenance plan that costs about $1.3 million.
Supervisor Gene Meiners said the county could take advantage of a favorable bond market and borrow the money without a public vote because the system is an essential county purpose.
Iowa law allows counties to borrow money for an essential purpose, but the decision to do so can be appealed to district court. Residents also can petition for a public vote.
“I have no problem voting for it,” Ruggles said of the essential-purpose bond, but he lamented that the choice would be “kind of shoving it down the taxpayers’ throat.”
Buying the system outright would require the money up-front. Under a lease agreement, the county wouldn’t have to pay for a year, and those annual payments would be between about $440,000 and $820,000, depending on whether the county opts for a 10- or 5-year lease.
The discussion Monday came less than a week after the supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a $10.9 million bid to build a downtown jail. The bid was $4 million more than initial construction estimates, and supervisors hope to cut about $550,000 from the cost.
They have considered borrowing up to $1.9 million more than what voters approved by agreeing to pay a higher interest rate on the loans. The borrowing plan has not been finalized.
The supervisors are expected to discuss the radio system Monday during their regular 9 a.m. meeting at the Carroll County courthouse.