MILFORD – A committee of county officials has recommended the Board of Supervisors proceed with a new radio system that would cost nearly $8 million in order to comply with a mandate from the federal government.
Local governments are under a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission to improve existing radio systems. The mandate has loomed for years and is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. Localities that do not comply face monetary penalties as well as having their radio communications systems closed down.
The county received a bid from Motorola early this year for a new radio system, and since then a committee of about eight people representing the agencies that use the communications system – the sheriff’s office, fire-rescue department, and school division – and the county’s administrative staff has been studying options for complying with the mandate.
County Administrator Charles Culley briefed the supervisors on the panel’s findings during a work session of the board on Wednesday of this week. His briefing lasted nearly an hour, after which the supervisors asked questions and heard from a small handful of citizens with an interest in the issue for about another hour.
Culley asked the supervisors to select an option at their regular meeting Nov. 15 and also to authorize the staff to submit a waiver to the FCC in order to buy more time to comply with the mandate. If the supervisors make a decision Nov. 15, they could review a contract for a new radio system as early as their regular Dec. 4 meeting.
Although they took no formal action, the consensus of the supervisors appeared to be in favor of the panel’s recommendation.
The committee evaluated six options, including improving the current VHF system, installing one of three new systems, and partnering with one of two other localities, Hanover County or Spotsylvania County; Hanover has a new system and Spotsylvania is in the process of developing one.
The capital costs of the various options range from a low of $1.9 million for improving the current system to a high of more than $8 million to partner with Spotsylvania, although the latter figure is an estimate because the cost of the Spotsylvania system has not been finalized yet.
There are additional costs for annual maintenance, optional software maintenance agreements, and debt service. The county’s cost over 15 years would range from $3 million to more than $23 million, figures that include the capital cost and associated costs.
The panel’s recommended option would require a capital investment of $7.8 million, annual maintenance of more than $236,000, and an optional software maintenance agreement for $90,000. With debt service, the total cost over 15 years would be $15.2 million.
Every option has benefits and drawbacks. Simply improving the current system, for example, would be the least costly option, but it would actually degrade the current system and would only have a lifespan of about seven years. The proposed system, while it has the highest capital investment and annual maintenance costs, would provide increased regional interoperability since most neighboring localities have or plan to implement similar systems.