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County proposes taking on 911 upgrade costs

County proposes taking on 911 upgrade costs

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Scotts Bluff County has plans to provide the impetus in upgrading the 911 communications tower and dispatching center.

During a Scotts Bluff County Commissioner meeting on Wednesday, June 2, the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners approved fully funding costs to upgrade the county’s communications towers as well as upgrades and new equipment in the communications center.

County officials first brought forth a $7.2 million plan to upgrade the communications towers, dispatching center and radios in March. The updates are needed within the next five to 10 years, according to Tyler Rexus, 911 center director.

In May, Scotts Bluff County Commissioners approved a proposal by Rexus that would have split the costs of upgrading the infrastructure among the 11 entities that are part of an interlocal agreement regarding the communications center, including the City of Scottsbluff, Gering and Scotts Bluff County. In that proposal, brought before a 911 advisory board established in 2013 when the current interlocal agreement was put into place, the county proposed paying $1.7 million of the infrastructure costs, in addition to its own share under the interlocal agreement.

However, Rexus said Wednesday in summarizing his view of the discussion during the 911 advisory board’s Tuesday, May 18, meeting, “Basically, the consensus was that they did not want to go with that plan (cost sharing the infrastructure cost).”

In 911 advisory board meetings in April and May, Rexus and Motorola officials had set May and June deadlines for financing packages, which representatives of Scottsbluff, Morrill and other entities said that they could not meet.

Since the latest meeting, Rexus put together a new proposal. The new proposal, which Rexus says other entities have agreed to, would have the county fully fund the infrastructure and communications center upgrades. Those costs will come to $2.79 million, not including the costs that Scotts Bluff County will also incur for purchasing its radios. Maintenance and service agreement costs would be split among the entities involved in the interlocal agreement, which calls for costs to be allocated based on population.

“Everybody that I was able to speak to, which I think pretty much covered everyone, they were more agreeable to this plan than the infrastructure cost sharing,” Rexus said.

He told commissioners he has had individual meetings or discussions with representatives of departments or entities to discuss an alternate proposal. Entities were also invited meetings that were held last week that were hosted by Motorola representatives, which was selected by the county as the contractor and provider on the project. Rexus has explained in the past that the project was not bid, but Motorola was selected and worked with because of its involvement in state interoperability project and bidding.

The Scotts Bluff County Consolidated Communications Center provides services for about 60 agencies, from police departments to public works departments, all of which will be impacted by the upgrades. Each of the 60 different agencies would be responsible for the purchase of their own radios, as they were before, but they would no longer get a substantial 60% discount that had been offered by Motorola on that equipment.

Instead, the county would take the full discount. A $1 million discount is available if the county signs a contract by June 21, to be applied to the purchase of infrastructure equipment.

The participating entities will still get a discount that is offered as part of Motorola’s state bid, which is a 30% discount. In previous estimates, which included the 60% discount, Scottsbluff had the most significant cost for radios.

In previous discussions, Scotts Bluff County officials have made reference to American Rescue Plan funds that may be used to help fund the upgrades, which is an allowable use under the rules proposed by the federal government. Commissioner Mark Harris said that he did think that using funds for the project would be appropriate as funds were allocated based on all of Scotts Bluff County, including the cities that are involved in the interlocal agreement.

During the commissioners’ meeting, representatives of Scottsbluff, Gering and Morrill were in attendance, and Commissioner Ken Meyer asked if the entities were in support of the plan.

“One thing we want — and I guess when I say we, I mean me, and I think the other commissioners feel the same way — is that we’re going to go into this in total agreement. There may be some that aren’t 100% on board, but there are enough on board that we’re going to do it to do it. We don’t want to go through another situation as we did when we tried to do the interlocal. You don’t need to have that, we don’t need to have that either. So everybody understands the funding, they understand the equipment, everybody’s on the same page,” he said, also noting that the county and other entities have known about the needs for upgrading the system for several years.

Morrill representative Janine Schmidt, who is the village’s clerk, indicated that she and Morrill Village Board Chairman Tony Schuler had seen the plan, and Commissioner Mark Harris indicated that Schuler had written a letter in support of the project. However, Schmidt said that the Village Board had not yet met or voted on the proposal.

Gering City Administrator Pat Heath indicated that the City of Gering was on board, though the council also has not yet formally approved any action on the topic. Scottsbluff representatives, Police Chief Kevin Spencer and Fire Chief Tom Schingle, didn’t appear to make any indication of the City of Scottsbluff’s position on the proposal. The Scottsbluff council meets on Monday and the proposal is not on its agenda for action.

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