County 911 Board could take control of 800 MHz radio system
by Brian Anderson
May 21, 2013 | 5464 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties.  (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
An 800 MHz radio that is currently used by most public safety agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties. (Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
The Calhoun County 911 Board of Directors could take responsibility for the communication system linking first responders and public safety agencies in Calhoun County as early as Thursday.

At a special called meeting of the 911 board and Calhoun County Commission on Tuesday, members of both agencies indicated they would vote to move forward with the 911 board’s takeover of the 800 megahertz communication system currently operated by the Alabama Regional Communication System.

“It’s important that the 800 MHz system survives,” said Mike Fincher, member of the 911 board and Regional Communication System board of directors.

Fincher opened the meeting by drawing comparisons to the outbreak of tornadoes in Oklahoma on Monday to the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that rocked Calhoun County, and how agencies were able to respond to the disaster using the radio system

“If you ask any police chief, fire chief, first responder, they’ll tell you this is the best system going,” Fincher said. “It’s important we have this communication or there’s going to be problems in the county.”

The County Commission meets Thursday, and County Administrator Ken Joiner said the commission will likely approve a resolution accepting the transfer. A special called meeting of the 911 board will take place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Cane Creek Golf Course to accept the transfer.

The final step in the process, according to 911 board and Communication System attorney Jason Odom, is for the Communication System to accept dissolution at its next meeting.

The takeover is an effort put forth by a committee made up of first responders, members of the 911 board and members of the Regional Communication System appointed last month by the County Commission. The system initially hoped to shore up funding for an upgrade through legislation that sought a vote to raise property taxes for residents in Calhoun and Talladega counties. The measure did not pass.

Fincher said the 911 board could provide the 800 MHz system with leverage to secure a loan or bond to fund the system’s upgrade — something that would be difficult for the Regional Communication System to secure.

“We won’t be using 911 money for this,” Fincher said. “There will be two separate books, two separate funds, just under one umbrella.”

Fincher said without a $4 million upgrade, the system “will just fall apart.”

County attorney Tom Sowa said the transfer would be a “paper transaction” only, and the goal is for users to continue to receive uninterrupted service during the transfer.

“To everybody outside, it’ll be like there’s no change at all,” Sowa said.

The radio system was set up in the 1990s by the federal government for agencies to respond in case of emergency situations stemming from the chemical weapons stockpile the U.S. Army maintained in Anniston. Funding for the radios went away when the chemicals were destroyed in 2011.

At the meeting, County Administrator Ken Joiner thanked the appointed committee and 911 board for the cooperation in coming up with a solution for funding.

“This is in the best interest of the citizens of Calhoun County, in my opinion,” Joiner said. “It’s going to work, we’ll make it work.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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