A bill signed into law last year in a Columbia County ceremony will mean new police radios as early as this fall.
Tuesday, the Columbia County Commission’s Management and Financial Services Committee fowarded for full commission approval a proposal to purchase a nearly $7 million radio system for the sheriff’s office.
The initial $3.5 million payment for the 800 mhz trunked radio system from Motorola will come from a fund accrued by the county’s 911 fees, which are levied on every telephone in the county.
Until Gov. Nathan Deal signed state Rep. Ben Harbin’s House Bill 280 last May during a Columbia County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, funds from 911 fees couldn’t be used to pay for communications systems for emergency services, said Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.
Since the law passed, the county has been setting aside a portion of the fees in preparation for upgrading the radio system, a necessity because of changes the Federal Communications Commission has made to radio signals, Whittle said.
“Our radio system in the sheriff’s office and most of the county is old,” Whittle said, and often forces deputies using handheld radios to strike a “Statue of Liberty” pose – talking into their lapel microphone while holding the radio in the air in an attempt to get a better signal.
The new system, which will be tied into the county’s under-construction fiber optic broadband network, will greatly improve reception, Whittle said.
The total cost of the project, if approved by commissioners Tuesday, is $6.95 million – considerably less than the nearly $9 million budgeted, Whittle said.
After the initial payment of $3.5 million, the county will make annual payments of at least $408,361 for 10 years, paying Motorola 3.19 percent interest, Johnson said. That money also will come from 911 fees, and the county can pay off the lease earlier without penalty.
Installation of the new system could be complete as early as October, Whittle said. In addition to the sheriff’s office switching to new radios, other county agencies could purchase their own radios and use the same system in return for paying for a share of its maintenance, he said.
“You’re not going to find a cheaper, better deal,” Whittle said. “It’s a huge leap forward for Columbia County.”