04/16/08 — Firemen back sales tax increase

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Firemen back sales tax increase

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 16, 2008 2:04 PM

With more than two dozen members standing behind him, Kirk Barnett, president of the Wayne County Firemen's Asso-ciation, announced their support for the quarter-cent sales tax referendum during Tuesday's county commission meeting.

County officials plan to use the revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax, which will be voted on during the May 6 primary, to pay for a new countywide communications system.

The problem, county officials say, is that the current system is 40-plus years old and in need of replacement.

The new system -- a VHF P25 Digital Trunking System that was recommended after a 2004 engineering study and is not the VIPER system used by the state highway patrol and other state agencies -- is "the best solution we could identify for the county," said county telecommunications supervisor Delbert Edwards.

Among its advantages is that it allows for the current pager system to be retained, County Manager Lee Smith said.

He also explained that it would be under local control and would accommodate not only county emergency services and the sheriff's office, but also all the fire departments and all the municipal emergency services and law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, add-ons for the school system, the Red Cross emergency shelters and even general service and public works departments may also be included.

"Communications is the life link between the citizens, emergency responders and other support agencies in times of emergencies or disasters," Barnett said, reading from his letter to the commission. "The Wayne County Firemen's Association Chiefs Council met.... All chiefs in attendance were in support of the quarter-cent sales tax increase to be used to build our new communications system.

"The Wayne County Firemen's Association also met ... in a regular general membership meeting.... Everyone in attendance was also in favor of the sales tax increase for the new communications system."

Work on the system is currently ongoing.

One tower has already been built in Goldsboro and two more are scheduled to go up this year in Mount Olive and Grantham.

Those will be paid for with approximately $1.5 million in cash reserves.

The rest of the system, including the purchase and installment of more than 1,500 radios for all the affected agencies, is expected to cost between $8 million and $8.5 million.

When complete, Smith says the system will provide "95/95 coverage" -- 95 percent of the county, 95 percent of the time.

Dennis Lewis of Pikeville, however, spoke in disagreement.

Lewis, a volunteer fireman, is concerned about the cost of the county's proposed system.

He believes the VIPER system is a better and cheaper alternative, even though county officials have said it would not be under their control, that it would not allow them to integrate their pager system and E-911 center equipment into it, and that it would not provide the same 95/95 coverage.

County officials also have said that because their system, which is the same as is used at the U.S. Army's Fort Dietrich in Frederick, Md., is not based on any one provider's equipment, it can be bid out more competitively and can work with VIPER, as well as the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's communications system.

And, said county emergency services director Joe Gurley, all of that makes their system more "cost-effective."

But in order to share more information about the state's system, Lewis invited the commissioners and the rest of county to the Pikeville Community Building at 7 p.m. on April 24 to hear a presentation on VIPER from highway patrol Capt. Alan Melvin.