The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Monday, February 25, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
A complete overhaul of Franklin County's emergency communication system could cost as much as $26 million.
That's the message delivered to the board of supervisors Tuesday by Mike McGannon with Engineering Associates Inc., a firm based in Georgia that was contracted to look into options for the county.
McGannon said the main problem for the county's system is a lack of coverage in the more rural areas, especially with portable radios, creating a situation when first-responders cannot communicate with each other.
"Communication is crucial for the safety of policemen and firemen," he said, adding that the "coverage footprint" needs to be spread.
In some areas of the county and inside buildings, the current system works only a little better than 50 percent of the time, he said.
According the company's report presented to the board, the county's emergency communication system is in "dire need of replacement" because it does not meet operational needs, has poor radio coverage, limited system reliability and is designed for mobile radios, not portables, which are used by individual first-responders.
To remedy the problem and provide close to complete coverage, two options were presented to the board.
The first, the APCO P25 Trunked Digital Simulcast System, would include 16 total tower sites (the county now has five -- Grassy Hill, Tom's Knob, Cook's Knob, Crowell's Gap and the Westlake water tank), new infrastructure, new equipment and a new E911 center.
Total cost of that project would be more than $26 million.
The second proposal, at $14.7 million, would include a total of only eight tower sites, which makes up the bulk of the cost difference. Different equipment with this proposal is also less expensive.
However, McGannon said, the coverage in the county would be about the same with either system.
Blackwater District Supervisor Cline Brubaker asked what advantages the more expensive system would have.
More communication towers would allow the county a possible revenue stream as space could be sold to commercial telecommunications companies, McGannon said.
Supervisors, though, expressed concern at the cost.
"You're talking about a substantial amount of money," Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia said. "I've never yet seen a project doing everything up front that is needed."
Camicia asked if it were a "platinum-plate or gold-plate" proposal that includes "everything everybody wants."
"We have to ask what we can afford," he said.
"Fundamental coverage is not gold-plated," McGannon said.
Both Camicia and Snow Creek District Supervisor Leland Mitchell wanted to know if either option could be phased in.
But McGannon said neither option can be phased in efficiently or cost-effectively.
"It really is an all or nothing project," he said. "Phasing in will not save money."
"The cost is large, but it's a 10 to 20-year investment," he added.
Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson said he was concerned about spending $3.6 million on a new E911 center.
"Is there room at the current 911 center?" he asked.
That option, McGannon said, has not yet been addressed.
"We need to explore more before going any further," Thompson said.
Camicia agreed, saying he did not feel comfortable making a decision with limited options available.
But board Chairman David Cundiff said the board was not being asked to choose an option and move forward with it.
Cundiff said the board was not committing any money and needed only to decide if the project moves to the next level, which is to apply for available frequencies.
"Getting frequencies will be tough," McGannon said.
Money for this part of the project ($41,040), which may also include locating suitable tower sites, is already included in the budget.
Blue Ridge District Supervisor Bobby Thompson said he would also like to see examples of these projects from other counties before moving ahead.
Supervisors approved the request to apply for frequencies.
In other business, the board:
•Approved by a vote of 6-1 a request from the Sheriff's Office to dedicate 7.5 acres of land near the landfill on U.S. 220 South to be used as a firing range. Sheriff's Office personnel now use the town's firing range as well as the 4-H facility, but Tony Mills said both were inadequate. The new range will be large enough to have life-fire training scenarios, canine training, as well as a physical fitness course, he said.
Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson made a motion to table the request to allow the Rocky Mount Police Dept. and Sheriff's Office to explore the new firing range as a possible joint venture. That motion failed 6-1.
•Agreed with Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia that a letter should be sent to members of various county committees regarding attendance at those committees' meetings.
"We don't have what looks like good participation in some committees," Camicia said. "It is really disconcerting."
Camicia said some members of committees rarely attend meetings and they need to let the county know if they want to continue serving.
•Agreed to look into the possibility of trying to attract companies that manufacture firearms to relocate to this area.
Camicia said some manufacturers are seeking to move because of possible state restrictions being considered that could interfere with the business.
"We need to ask them, 'How would you like to come to a very friendly place, like in Southwest Virginia'." Camicia said.