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911 board requests loan for system update

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at 10:34 am

LACIE SILVA – Editor

On November 7, the Marion County Commissioner Board met for a special meeting to discuss the 911 Board’s request for a $588,000 loan to make necessary updates to their systems and increase coverage areas.

Chairwoman Linda Mason opened the meeting by clarifying that the meeting was specifically for discussion and voting on moving forward with funding the 911 board or to deny funding. The 911 board has expressed their need to update and upgrade their radio systems, as well as build new towers to increase coverage. As Mayor David Jackson explained some grant money will be coming from the state to support updates and the process will take between two and two and a half years to complete. Mayor Jackson also admitted that, “The current system is not up to the standard of what it should be by any means.”

The 911 board requested the County Commissioners board to loan a sum of $588,000. Mayor Jackson recommended funding in the amount of $522,500, emphasizing that exceeding this amount would tap into funds not allocated for these budget allowances.

On the Wednesday before the special meeting, the finance committee convened to assess the feasibility of funding the 911 board’s request. Commissioner Don Adkins, representing the finance committee, conveyed their endorsement of allocating $522,500 and subsequently moved for its approval.

Commissioner Ruric Brandt raised concerns about the county’s property taxes, questioning the implications of funding the 911 board. In response, Chairwoman Mason clarified that property taxes would not see an increase due to this funding, emphasizing that it is a loan. Commissioner Gene Hargis inquired about the entity responsible for the payments, to which Chairwoman Mason affirmed that the 911 board would handle them. Attorney William Gouger Jr. added that payments are scheduled for the first of each fiscal year.

The current system reportedly does not function properly as a result of previous defective radios being purchased and the coverage area being unsubstantiated as no studies were conducted. Commissioner Brandt voiced his apprehension regarding this problem and questioned the verification of the system to be purchased as a potential improvement. Chairwoman Mason clarified that the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network (TACN) system, a state system already in use by the highway patrol, is reliable. Commissioner Brandt pointed out that it was his understanding the systems had been operated exclusively on the highways and questioned the effectiveness in the valleys. To which Commissioner Hargis responded that the highway patrol operates county-wide, including valleys. Commissioner Steven Franklin then introduced Steve Lamb for further clarification.

Lamb, as described by Commissioner Franklin, oversees operations and possesses extensive knowledge of radio system functionality. A two-year study on coverage and functionality was conducted for this project, acknowledging previous oversight in due diligence. Lamb clarified that there’s now a performance contract and a guaranteed level of performance. While it won’t cover 100% of the county due to radio geographical limits, a map provided by vendors ensures coverage for approximately 95% of the county, as per Lamb’s estimation.

Further clarification covered the TACN system, which the state has been developing for over 10 years to achieve statewide coverage. Marion County currently has two towers on the TACN system (one on Sequatchie Mountain and the other directly on the county line at Tapped Highway). Initially, the teams tried to add just one new tower, but it would have left a substantial area without coverage. Thus, two new towers are required to meet the coverage area’s needs. Lamb also suggested petitioning Commissioner Jeff Long of the Department of Safety, presenting the benefits and data to seek assistance in supporting project funding. This would enhance secure coverage not only in Marion but also in surrounding areas. According to Lamb, the state has already agreed to put up one tower and cover the microwave link, addressing the current system problem and indicating that the state is investing more in the project than the county.

In additional efforts to safeguard the county and mitigate potential issues, Commissioner Brandt inquired about the penalties specified if something goes wrong or doesn’t function as expected. Lamb clarified that in case of malfunction, the contractors are obligated to rectify the issue. He further elaborated that the guaranteed coverage area is precisely defined in a half-mile by half-mile grid. The study involved comprehensive tests of the equipment, conducted grid by grid, by driving around to ensure the validity of the connection and its functionality.

Commissioner Brandt inquired about the integration of the fire department into the system. Lamb responded that they are currently in the process of working on it, ensuring that the system will have the capability to collaborate with the fire departments. He explained that for the inclusion of fire departments, they only need the radios that can connect to the system. Moreover, Lamb advised they are actively researching various grants to cover the additional costs associated with this integration.

Commissioner Franklin discussed the enhancements in areas not currently covered by the existing system, emphasizing that South Pittsburg, for instance, will have improved coverage with the new system. He acknowledged that while some remote areas might not have optimal coverage, the majority of the region will be covered. Commissioner Franklin also addressed concerns about overlapping coverage areas, explaining that the new system will eliminate interference issues seen in the current setup and extend coverage by six miles on the highway, a gap not covered by the existing system or the highway patrol.

Commissioner Brandt raised the question of backup measures in case of system failure. Lamb clarified that the system incorporates a microwave link in a loop pattern, providing support to either side in case of failure. He further outlined that the system, with an approximate cost of $700,000, is being funded by the state for statewide implementation, and the state will handle maintenance and monitoring of the link where it is implemented.

After concluding the discussion and addressing all questions, Commissioner Franklin seconded the motion to approve funding. The motion received unanimous approval from all board members, and the 911 board will receive funding totaling $522,500.

The Marion Tribune – November 30, 2023