Radio board chairman: new money won't come from user fees
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Apr 09, 2013 | 4898 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An 800 megahertz radio used by the Anniston Fire Department. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
An 800 megahertz radio used by the Anniston Fire Department. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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OXFORD – The board of directors for the Alabama Regional Communication System is unsure where funding to maintain their system will come from, but its chairman is sure the money won’t come from user fees.

The directors met today in Oxford, and discussed the way forward after state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, effectively killed hopes for the School Safety Act, which would have allowed voters in Calhoun and Talladega counties to vote on a proposed tax increase that would have generated $7 million for the system.

The 800 megahertz digital radio system, originally paid for by the federal government, is used by local fire and police departments, schools and other agencies. Officials have said the money is needed to keep the system running as it ages. Since federal money went away in 2012, agencies have paid $22.50 per month to the ARCS board for each radio they use.

Alan Watson, chairman of the board and Talladega police chief, said the fees would have to almost double to support future upgrades to the system. He called that option unlikely.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a lot of agencies simply can’t afford that,” Watson said.

“We’re trying to work on other ways to get some funding,” Watson said “We don’t have any answers yet, but I think we will in the next couple of weeks. It’s not something we can do overnight.”

Even at current levels, the fees may be more than some agencies can pay. At the meeting Tuesday, Kevin Jenkins, the system’s administrator, said the Lay Lake Volunteer Fire Department still had not paid user fees for 2012 or the second quarter of 2013. Jenkins said Lay Lake is the only delinquent user for 2012, but more agencies are behind on their bills for 2013.

Mike Fincher, director of safety for Calhoun County Schools, said the board’s focus is on the users of the system and making sure they are up-to-date on the information they need going forward.

“We have to get that out to them as soon as possible,” Fincher said. “They need to know where we are so they know what to do next.”

Watson said the board was “extremely disappointed” in Marsh’s decision not to support the measure and give residents a chance to vote. Jenkins said that prior to Marsh’s announcement he had met with 90 percent of the system’s main users and said the bill had widespread support.

A special meeting of ARCS directors earlier this morning to discuss the future of the School Safety Act was canceled after Marsh made his views clear. Board members gathered for their regular meeting at 10 a.m.

The Alabama Regional Communication system was set up in 2011 to oversee the 800 MHz radio system after federal funding ended. The system was provided to local agencies as the Army prepared to destroy the chemical weapons stockpile at the Anniston Army Depot. The last of those weapons were destroyed in 2011.

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