Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 22, 2018

Communications Commission discusses upgrade

By Xiomara Levsen | Jul 18, 2017



The Washington County Communications Commission discussed a consultant’s report and options to upgrade the equipment and communications center.

On June 23, all of the radios at the Washington County Communications Center went down. The radio building air conditioner malfunctioned, causing it to get too warm for the equipment to function, Washington County Communications Center supervisor Cara Sorrells said.

Before this happened another window unit was installed and the plywood they used to cover the hole where it was installed came off.

“So the hot air was shot back into the building,” Sorrells said. “The building got to be over 120 degrees and everything shut down [and] blew the breakers.

County staff and the air-conditioning company showed up to reset everything and the radios began working again.

“We’re lucky,” Sorrells added, “because we had no paging and we had no radios and that’s what will happen someday with the consoles because I don’t have the parts to fix them.”

Sorrells said this was very scary for her, and she loses sleep over the thought of the radios or consoles going down.

Sorrells pointed out what the consultants report said about the timeline for moving forward with radio replacement and building options.

“I guess the thing I want to point out is if we move forward right now, July/August of ‘17 the new radio system is not operational until July of ‘19,” Sorrells said, “and if we don’t address the building anywhere in here — if we put that off, that’s two more years that my radios could go dead in the water and they won’t come back on because I won’t have parts. We’re lucky this time they came back on.”

Washington County Sheriff Jared Schneider said it’s not just the radios they have to consider but the 911 system equipment located in the basement of the communications center.

Board chairman Ryan Miller asked Schneider and Sorrells if they could continue to use the radio tower they currently have if they buy new radios for the county or move the communications center temporarily to Johnson County like the consultant suggested.

“We still have to do something with our radio system, so even if we move our consoles up there we would still have to make the investment in our radio equipment,” Schneider said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”

They would also have to find somewhere to store their 911 equipment while the new communications center is built, he added.

The consultant also advised the commission they need to decide if they want to join the state’s radio network or another network, Schneider said. Several of the counties in Eastern Iowa, such as Linn and Johnson counties belong to another network. Either way a new tower would have to be built, probably, which would cost several hundred thousand dollars to do.

“If we have to build a tower out in the county, half a million is about right [for the cost],” Washington County supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said. “If we have to build one in this city to replace the one we’ve got, it will be more than half a million.”

Board chairman Ryan Miller asked if the radios would fall under an essential services bond. Washington County Attorney John Gish was invited to the meeting to discuss this with the commission.

“Cara reached out to me to talk about the possibility that the county would need a new communications center,” Gish said. “The equipment itself is an essential service under the code and so a bond can be used without a vote, but the question Cara had was whether the building would be an essential service, and therefore, if we could get a bond without a vote as well.”

There is an argument that without the building the equipment would be useless, but the law said building a building is a general purpose and would require a bond with a vote, he said.

“What’s the threshold?” Miller asked Gish.

Gish said he didn’t remember the amount but the building specs for the new communications center would be over that threshold. Gish did reach out to the Iowa Auditor’s office to see if the new communications center would fall under the essential services bond, but for now he would say it’s a general purpose bond.

The county could bond for the equipment now and have it built and make a decision during that time about the building, Miller asked.

“There’s a two-year build out on the equipment, so you could start that and have it in the works while you’re working on the building,” Sorrells replied.

Supervisor Stan Stoops asked if they would have to replace the tower currently being used for certain.

If the communications center moves from its current location they would have to signal to it just to use it, Sorrells replied. It can’t be moved to the new location.

“So it sounds like we need to have another committee meeting probably as soon as possible,” commission member and Supervisor Richard Young said, “probably in the next week or two, and make a recommendation.”

Sorrells added they may not have a decision even after the building and equipment committee meets but could still try to get questions answered.

“We need to iron out what direction we’re going with the equipment,” Miller added.

The committee will meet at 8 a.m., Friday, July 28, at the courthouse to review all options for the equipment.



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