Scotts Bluff County commissioners could decide in the coming weeks how the county would like to proceed on radio and communications center improvements.
On Monday, April 19, Scotts Bluff County Commissioner Mark Harris had been among the audience members as the 911 advisory committee met and discussed costly upgrades that are proposed for the county’s communications centers. Upgrading the county’s communications system is estimated at $7.2 million, and local entities, such as police and fire departments within the county, would be responsible for purchasing their own radio equipment. Harris outlined those discussions to commissioners during Monday's meeting.
Scotts Bluff County Chief Deputy Troy Brown updated commissioners on the current work that he and 911 director Tyler Rexus have also been doing since that meeting. The two have been in the research phase, participating in webinars as the county is expected to receive $6.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, according to county officials.
Upgrades to the communications center and radio system could qualify for those funds, Brown said. In speaking with other officials, he said, he had also been referred to speak to Congressman Adrian Smith about other possible avenues for funding that could be used for the project.
Some of the entities that contract with Scotts Bluff County Communications to provide 911 services may also be able to use infrastructure funds for the project.
“We’ve got some smaller departments that are going to be struggling to pay for (radios),” Commissioner Mark Reichert said, acknowledging discussions about available federal funding as good news.
According to information presented at the advisory meeting, estimated costs just to upgrade radios ranged from about $3,600 for three radios for McGrew, on the low end, to more than $158,000 for Scottsbluff, the largest agency in the county.
With such a significant cost, entities in an interlocal agreement with the county want to know all the costs that they’ll be expected to pay as the system is upgraded — namely, will they also be required to pay portions of the costs to upgrade the infrastructure.
At the 911 advisory meeting, representatives of entities like Scottsbluff, Gering and Morrill asked Harris and county officials about the commissioners’ plans for covering costs for purchasing new communications consoles and towers as part of the upgrades. Brown said during Monday’s meeting that the current plans are to replace four consoles in the 911 center and purchase two additional consoles to be placed in the Scottsbluff Police Department to establish a backup system.
However, county commissioner’s haven’t yet had those discussions about infrastructure costs.
To date, Harris said, commissioners have just had general discussions about the need for updates,
“The question has been, whether or not, the county is going to be of the thought process that we’re responsible for all of that infrastructure, or whether or not we’re going to need some help from them in paying for that. We need to make a decision on that.”
The members of the 911 advisory committee asked the county to put together a proposal outlining its plan, Harris said. He proposed that commissioners discuss the issue during a work session, a separate meeting from the regularly scheduled commissioner’s meeting.
County commissioners still had lots of questions about the project, particularly about possible funding that could be available and pursued. They even had some discussion about whether or not the county should consider hiring a grant writer to pursue different avenues of funding that may be available.
Motorola has proposed that the county be the agent for the project, with the county purchasing the needed radios and other equipment. Other entities would pay the county. Even that topic was a discussion point during Monday’s commissioner’s meeting, as Reichert asked for details about it. Motorola has extended a deadline for a special financing offer it has proposed until June, but commissioner Charlie Knapper thought the county had already agreed to that financing offer.
“I think we’re on the right path,” Commissioner Ken Meyer said. “We kind of know where we’re going with this, we just need to pull it all together and present it to all these groups.”
Commissioners tasked Brown with gathering the needed information for a proposal, and other information, that commissioners need to consider at the work session. Harris had hoped to have the special meeting next week, however, Brown indicated he was uncertain of the timeline so a date for the meeting had not been decided as of Tuesday.
The meeting will be public, and all entities that will be involved in the project would also be notified of the meeting by Brown, according to discussion Monday.
According to discussion at the 911 advisory meeting, upgrades are needed within the next two to seven years as communications equipment moves toward end of life.