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County starts communications upgrade

At Monday night’s Hancock County Fiscal Court meeting, magistrates gave the approval for Emergency Services to start upgrading its communications equipment.

The current equipment relies on out-dated analog technology approximately 30-years old, and barely works outside of Hawesville’s city limits.
“We need to do this,” Hancock County Judge/Executive Johnny “Chic” Roberts said. “We spent enough time trying to get clear guidance from treasury.”

Earlier this year the county received several hundred thousand dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, and tried to find out if U.S. Treasury guidelines allowed the county to use this money to upgrade the emergency communications equipment.
“We have looked at the guidance from the treasury regarding the ARPA funds,” Roberts said. “We have talked to lawyers in Frankfort; the best we can get right now is it is not an allowable project.”

Roberts said upgrading the emergency communications equipment is a critical issue to the county, and the county needed to start the process now. Magistrate LT Newton agreed with Roberts.
“I had another very frustrating day Saturday with that stuff,” Newton said.

Recently Newton informed the court of a problem he encountered with the equipment when responding to a fallen tree complaint on a county road. Newton lives in the Pellville area, and went to investigate the fallen tree. He managed to briefly contact Emergency Services before he lost communication with the Emergency Operations Center. He finally used his cell phone to contact the EOC about the issue.

In addition, at the morning Hancock County Fiscal Court meeting at the first of the month, Emergency Services Director Damian Rice relayed an incident that happened by the Hancock County Career Center. He said a vehicle caught on fire, and Emergency Service personnel’s communications did not work; they could not talk to emergency dispatch.

The communications upgrade costs approximately $1.3 million, with the county’s portion coming to $800,000 it the county manages to receive grants to offset the cost. The plan includes adding three new towers to the existing system and new portable radios for Emergency Services personnel in addition to new equipment at the EOC.

To start the process, the county needs to apply for licensing from the federal Communications Commission, Rice said.

“We are switching from VHF to 800 MHZ,” Rice said. “That process takes 6-8 months.”
Rice said the department plans to apply for emergency licensing in hopes of getting quicker approval, but no guarantees exist on this point. He also said no exact figures exist on how much it costs to apply for the licensing as it depends on what the FCC needs to do to approve the licenses.
“There is no playbook on how much they charge,” Rice said.

Given the timelines on getting the appropriate approvals, ordering the equipment, and training, the quickest the county can expect to go online with the equipment is in the summer of 2022.

In other action
• Approved a project to replace the lighting at the girls’ softball field at Vastwood Park. The project is a cost share with the     Hancock County Board of Education. The total cost of the project is $179,443, with each entity paying half.
• Voted to keep the Hancock County Health District’s tax rate the same at 4.25-percent of each $100 of assessed valuation.
• Approved appointing John Marvel as the assistant supervisor at the county road department.
• Hired Mark Drake as an employee at Vastwood Park.

By Ralph Dickerson


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