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

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Radio communication system price tag now at $20 million

Monday, February 24, 2014

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

The cost of a new radio communication system for Franklin County first-responders has been a moving target, but the latest report sets it at about $20 million.

That was the figure given to the board of supervisors on Tuesday by Mike McGannon with Engineering Associates, the firm hired to handle the groundwork for a new system.

That $20 million price includes obtaining the needed 800 MHz channels, developing 11 tower sites, purchasing equipment and installing necessary electronics, McGannon said.

The county is in "dire" need of an upgrade, he told the board, mainly because of the limitations on communication between portable (hand-held) equipment caused by the county's topography.

Coverage is now between 40 and 50 percent of the county, he said, with a large chunk of non-coverage in the less populated western part of the county. With a new system, that coverage would increase to about 80 to 90 percent of the county, he added.

Mobile (in-car) units fare better and cover almost all of the county.

The cost estimates for the new system have ranged from an initial low of $14 million to a high of $26 million.

But McGannon said the figure dropped when it was determined that only 11 tower sites would be needed, instead of 16.

The current system being used cannot be expanded because it is VHF and the Federal Communications Commission will not allow any expansion, he said. That's why the 800 MHz frequencies were needed.

Several supervisors expressed concern over the project's price tag.

Gills Creek Supervisor Bob Camicia asked about alternatives, especially the possibility of participating in a regional system rather than a stand-alone system.

McGannon said a regional system would save money because fewer towers would be needed and some equipment could be shared.

However, the county would not be in control of the system. That control, he said, would have to be shared.

Blue Ridge Supervisor Bobby Thompson asked how long it would be before equipment would have to be upgraded.

McGannon said it would probably last about 10 years, anticipating advances in technology.

The "fundamental assets," such as the towers, would last at least 30 years, he added.

McGannon also said the county could see some revenue from the towers, which may be utilized by cell phone companies.

The board instructed McGannon to proceed with developing a plan for a new system, but also to explore the possibility of going to a regional system.

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