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Fiscal Court approves $3.2-mil emergency communications project

By C. Josh Givens

Hancock County Fiscal Court has approved a project to replace the county’s outdated emergency communications system with a “gold standard” digital system which will cover the entire county.

The approval took place at Monday’s meeting of Fiscal Court

Judge/Executive Johnny “Chic” Roberts said the current system is not reliable in several areas of the county, especially in southern Hancock County.

“When someone calls 911, we need them to feel assured our responders are going to be able to communicate the entire time they are tending to that emergency,” Roberts said.

Fiscal Court approved a bid of $3.2 million for the Tait Communications equipment, providing a four-channel, six-site, P-25 Phase 2 TDMA digital system, which will allow both cities, the county and Hancock County Schools to communicate with ease.

The original bid was for $4.5 million, but Roberts said the county was able to negotiate and also make some changes to the first bid specifications.

The county will complete the project in partnership with the school system, with the county spending $2.6 million and schools contributing $563,984. Roberts said the School Board will still need to approve the system’s contribution, but he sees no holdup on that action.

Fiscal Court will utilize $1.699 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to help with the project.

“We are very fortunate to have the ARPA funds sitting in our accounts at a time this project is needed,” Roberts said. “This is certainly the best use for the funding, which will not only help keep our emergency responders safe, but also the children and staff inside our schools.”

Michael Badgett, president of B&E Electronics in Jackson, Tenn., said the communications system is top of the line, manufactured by a global leader in communications.

“Hancock County did not scrimp on this project,” Badgett said. “Once this project is completed, we guarantee 92 percent or more coverage inside the county with a portable radio. In actuality, it’s going to be most likely 100 percent. Based on where the county stands right now with communications, this is a major jump in technological standards. It is a ground-up improvement.”

Badgett said the system to be installed in the county is also used by Daviess County, the London bus service in England, Alliant Energy in Iowa and Wisconsin, and the entire country of Viet Nam.

“Tait is a major player in the global market,” Badgett said. “The system has room for build-out in the future whether there becomes a need for regional, state or even nationwide; it’s just that good. Interoperability is a key with this techonolgy.”

Badgett said of particular interest to the parents and families of Hancock County is what the system will mean for school safety.

“There are pieces to this system that are going to give immediate communication abilities, in the event of an emergency, for first responders to communicate directly into those schools,” he said. “That is a very fine aspect to his project.”

Badgett said the timeline for the project, once contracts are finalized, will include about a six-month window for approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for frequencies and project plan.

“Because this is for public safety, there is no doubt it will be approved, but the process is a long one,” he said. “From there, I expect construction and installation to be another six months.”

Badgett said he anticipates the system will be up and running in Hancock County in July 2023.

In other business, Fiscal Court:

  • Approved the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 county budget at $15.02 million. Roberts said the budget is a bit larger than previous years’ budgets in main part to ARPA funding which has been earmarked for the communications project. The budget also includes $500,000 for blacktopping and resurfacing on county roads, as well a five-percent raise for county employees.

“We are very proud of our county employees and happy to be able to provide these raises for them,” Roberts said. “Magistrates were supportive, understanding that in these inflationary times, the employees not only deserved the raises but face a higher cost of living. We are fortunate to have the people we have; they show up every day, working for the people of the Hancock County. They each and every one care deeply about this community, which makes my job a bit easier. I trust them completely.”

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