Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 17, 2018

Grant being drafted for new 911 center

By Xiomara Levsen | Aug 23, 2017



The supervisors approved having the Washington County Communications Commission and 911 committee move forward with drafting a grant application for the Riverboat Foundation’s fall grant cycle.

Before the request to apply for a grant, discussion was held about the price to replace the radio equipment and the building of the current communications center is housed in.

Ryan Miller, mayor of Wellman, Washington County Jared Schneider and Washington County Communications Center supervisor Cara Sorrells gave the supervisors estimates for the new radio equipment and having a new building built for the communications center at the meeting Tuesday morning.

“We have a couple of issues that we’re dealing with right now from the standpoint of communications,” Miller said. “The 911 equipment that we have in the county was installed in 2000. It had a 15-year life span and from what we’re told from our consultant it takes two years to build it, so we’re really in need of moving forward with this.”

The new system would be 800 megahertz, is used in Iowa and Johnson counties and would provide better coverage inside a building, Miller said. Three new towers would be built for the new system and 300 new radios would be provided to everyone in the county in law enforcement, fire and EMS.

“So the big question is how much would something like this cost?” Miller said. “Our consultant estimates for this type of system $10.4 million, so it’s a big budget item.”

The 911 system gets funding from the $1 surcharge on telephone bills in the county on a monthly basis, Miller said. Over a year’s time it would be $200,000, which wouldn’t cover the costs for the equipment. It would be up to the supervisors to bond out for this equipment under an essential services bond, which would not require going before the public in a bond vote.

The second issue Miller brought up to the supervisors is where would this equipment go. The current location of the communications center is having electrical, plumbing and infrastructure issues.

“We’re looking at instead of putting $10 million of equipment into a 50-year-old building that’s not set up properly — is to look at a new facility in order to house that equipment,” Miller said, “to make it more functional, to give them the space they need and also down the road if we need more space for counsels and dispatchers to have that space available.”

The consultants suggested the county look into having a 4,000 square foot building costing $270 per square foot that would fit federal standards for a communications building, which would be a little over $1 million for a building, Miller said.

“So you put the two together — that’s $11.48 million to get us to the point where we need to be from the county’s standpoint for communications and 911,” Miller said.

If the county needed to bond for the building it would come before the voters in a general obligation bond vote, Miller added. He suggested the supervisors move forward with getting the equipment built because it takes two years to do so and would give them a little more time to figure out building options.

“I guess the key thing on the dollar amount being talked about here is that’s up to — the consultants gave us three different options to look at,” Schneider said, “the lowest one being $4.6 [million] for the equipment and the highest being $10.4 [million]. That’s done with a lot of assumptions.”

Both Schneider and Sorrells have spoken with Iowa County, which is doing its own upgrade and itsequipment estimates have come in around $4.6 million, he added.

“The biggest thing with us is trying to find tower locations and you don’t figure that out until the design phase of this, which you can’t get to until you have a vendor on board,” Schneider said. “The consultant stressed to us to get a vendor on board you have to have the funding available to stand behind your project and that’s why here today is to ask the supervisor’s to go out and secure the funding up to the highest amount, so we can move forward with an RFP (request for proposal) to get some vendors on board with working on this project.”

Washington County attorney John Gish said the age of the equipment wasn’t the only issue. He asked Sorrells, Schneider and Miller to discuss the issues with the current building and how that would affect the new equipment.

From a law enforcement standpoint, Schneider said there are locations in the county such as Highway 218 where they have difficulty communicating with the current radios they have. They just hope their radios work when they’re responding to an accident scene or a traffic stop.

There are several issues with the building the communications center is in currently.

There was an incident in June when the radios went down in the communications center because the building overheated, Sorrells said. They were able to get them back online but dispatch was dead in the water until it was fixed, which Sorrells said was a scary feeling.

The building also wasn’t built for the technology that is in there, she added. In the last 30 years there have been six different phone systems, four 911 systems and electrical cords are everywhere. Vendors have tried to install electrical equipment at the communications center and have gotten shocked because electrical sockets are hanging off the wall.

“It’s a juggled mess,” Sorrells said. “I don’t even know how we would put a new system in there.”

The building was built as a house and the septic system backs up almost every week. A repairman is there almost every two weeks trying to fix the issues. The sewer goes over the 911 system, which is located in the basement of the old jail. Plumbers have refused to jet the septic system out because they don’t want to damage the 911 equipment there.

Supervisor Stan Stoops said he worked there as a jailer 30 years ago and there were issues with the building then.

“That building was junk,” Stoops said. “It was junk then and it’s junk now. The attention the building needed was constant whether it was the roof, whether it was the plumbing or the heating — it was constant. The building was designed as a house and was used for the public. It just wasn’t taken care of.”

Anything the county would repair at that building would just be a band-aid, Stoops added. There are mold issues on the former jail side and he thinks the building needs to be leveled.

Board chairman Richard Young, who is also director of the Washington County Ambulance, said something needs to be done about the building.

“It’s going to be expensive no matter what we do,” Young added.

Young also said he was committed to this project and has spoken to people about it. The supervisors would need to communicate to the public the need for a new building for the communications center and need to be honest about it.

After approving the request to draft a grant application, the supervisors discussed what the options would be to fund the project. Young said he would be in Des Moines the rest of the week and would speak to the people in charge of bonds to see what the county’s options would be and where they need to go from here.

Treasurer Jeff Garrett asked Miller to find out what vendors needed for secured funding because that would probably make a difference in how the county moves forward with this project. Miller agreed with Garrett and said he would speak with the consultant about this. Miller also said he would see if there were anymore federal grants the county could apply for.

Once the grant application is drafted, the 911 commission and communications committee will bring it back to the supervisors to approve. It has to be submitted by Oct. 4.













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