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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

New emergency radio system in county has high price tag

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

The cost of a new emergency communications radio system in Franklin County has now climbed to an estimated $24 million.

County Administrator Rick Huff told the board of supervisors during a 2014-15 budget work session last week that finding radio bands has been a problem, and the ones now being eyed require more tower sites around the county.

The initial cost estimate to radically upgrade the county's radio system for first-responders, which has been inadequate for many years, was $14 million.

But Huff said that was when the county was pursuing VHF frequencies, which would require about five new tower sites and much of the current radio equipment could still be used.

"We can't get them," Huff said of the VHF frequencies, adding that the state has bought them for future use.

That leaves UHF frequencies in the 700-800 MHz range, he said.

Those are available and are being pursued, but the problem is, they may require up to 10 tower sites around the county and all radio equipment will have to be replaced.

The signals also can't interfere with any system being used by surrounding jurisdictions and that lack of interference has to be confirmed.

Huff did say the county may be able to use some site infrastructures already in place in Roanoke and Pittsylvania counties, which could cut down on the number of new tower sites needed.

Huff told the board that with the increased cost of the radio system and other major projects planned in the near future, the county may need a penny increase in the real estate tax within the next year or two.

The annual cost of repaying the debt on the new radio system could jump from the initial estimate of about $1.3 million a year to $2.2 million annually, he said.

County officials and public safety personnel have been requesting a new system for years. It's not unusual for first-responders to be unable to communicate with each other during emergencies, and that can, officials say, create a dangerous situation.

Other major capital projects in the works include a new career and technical education center for county schools, with an estimated cost of $50 million.

On another issue from a public hearing held last week, the board of supervisors tabled a proposed change in the vehicle license fee for next fiscal year.

The change would revert the fee due in December this year from an inital $34.25 to the regular $25.

The board of supervisors had originally increased the fee to offset a loss in this fiscal year of about $250,000 created by the state limit on how much could be charged in one calendar year for vehicles.

However, the board changed its mind and decided to make up the $250,000 from the general fund this year and leave the fee in December at $25.

The board tabled the measure until next month because there was a question related to the fees the county charges for antique and vintage vehicles.

Board members requested more information from staff to clear up the issue.

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