County commissioners want to see final cost of 911 system upgrade

Grady County is being asked to pony up $1.2 million for upgrades to the Decatur-Grady 911 system and purchase of new radios.
Three years ago, Grady and Decatur counties voted to invest in a digital VHF radio system, however the system is plagued by interference with other traffic from other agencies outside the Decatur-Grady 911 system as well as a lack of coverage for portable radios on the system.
According to Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar, the county’s actual cost to upgrade will likely be less than the $1.2 million, because it has reduced the number of radios it plans to purchase.
The upgrade to a 700 MHz truncated system will require all users to purchase new radios. The Cairo City Council has already approved the purchase of new radio equipment to replace the radios that were purchased three years ago.
Motorola is offering the Decatur-Grady 911 users a credit on the equipment. On Tuesday, Grady County Commissioner Ray Prince asked when that credit amount would be known.
911 Director Tonya Griffin said this week that it would take Motorola approximately 45 days to supply the two counties with the final figures on the cost for full implementation of the upgrade.
Commissioner Prince also requested to see in “black and white” that Motorola would guarantee the new system would work like they say it will.
Director Griffin explained that the current system was designed by a consultant hired by Decatur and Grady counties and she noted that Motorola had no responsibility for the design of the system. “This time they are designing it and it has to work like they say. If not, it is their responsibility to fix it on their dime,” Ms. Griffin said.
She said that an issue with a new system designed by Motorola to serve Greene and Oconee counties resulted in Motorola putting in an additional tower site at its expense to correct a no-coverage zone caused by fog coming off Lake Oconee.
Griffin also acknowledged that even with the upgrade some no-coverage zones would still exist. However, she said those areas would be identified and procedures for dealing with those locations could be established. Whereas, before those areas were not specifically identified.
The two counties originally accepted the recommendation of their consultant to go with a digital VHF system, because the cost of a 700-800 MHz system was approximately $6.5 million and required tying into the Leon County Fla. system.
According to Director Griffin, at that time the switch used by Albany and Thomasville was older, but now those two cities are in the process of upgrading their switch. The new system will tie into the Albany and Thomasville system with Decatur-Grady 911 joining the two cities in the cost of maintaining the master switch.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs said that taxpayers had questioned him why the county needed to spend more money when they had already spent several million dollars three years ago to upgrade the 911 system.
“We went with the least expensive option to start off with, but now we’re upgrading to the Cadillac,” Commissioner T.D. David said.
Griffin told commissioners that the Decatur County Board of Commissioners were awaiting the final cost before voting on the upgrade and Chairman Norton suggested the Grady County Commission follow suit.
Director Griffin said that it would take 12 to 18 months to install the system once the final approval was made.
Commissioner Prince said he wanted to make sure County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley examined the final contract to make sure “Motorola is on the hook.”
Commissioner Childs asked when the county would have to pay for the upgrade. Director Griffin said that Motorola has proposed a seven year lease option, and the first payment would not be due until one year after the contract is executed.
Griffin also said in the meantime she wants to schedule a meeting with local users of Decatur-Grady 911 and Motorola engineers to discuss any issues or ask questions regarding the upgrade before a final decision is made. She indicated the users were not given that opportunity in the development of the first upgrade.
Chairman Norton asked Ms. Griffin how long the new system would last and she indicated a software upgrade may be needed within 10 years, but she estimated the life of the system itself to be 25 to 30 years.
“Motorola has gone above and beyond to help us get out of this situation, and they didn’t have to do it. I’m much more confident this time around,” Director Griffin said.
She also said she would like to plan a field trip to Barrow County where they recently upgraded from a digital VHF system to a similar 700 MHz system. She said the trip would give local department heads an opportunity to talk with people using the system being proposed by Motorola and see it in use.
When asked, County Administrator Tobar said his recommendation would be to use funds from the county’s reserves to pay the lease over the seven year term rather than raises taxes to pay for the upgrade.
Norton said it would likely be the first meeting in April before a final vote would be cast. In the meantime, the board gave its consensus to move forward with obtaining the final cost from Motorola on the recommendation of the Decatur-Grady 911 committee, which voted Jan. 22 to recommend moving forward with the proposed upgrade.

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