09/15/08 — County commissioners schedule hearing to discuss financing a new communication system

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County commissioners schedule hearing to discuss financing a new communication system

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 15, 2008 1:35 PM

Financing a new countywide communication system will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday held by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

The 9 a.m. hearing to be held in the commissioners' meeting room at the courthouse, is to gather public input on county plans to borrow up to $9.7 million for a new high-band radio/paging communications system for emergency and other public safety uses.

The hearing is required by the state before the county can enter into any installment financing agreement. If approved by commissioners, the next step for the project would be approval of the financing application by the Local Government Commission.

County Manager Lee Smith said the application already is on file with the commission.

Smith said the county received an "excellent" response from local and national financial institutions interested in financing the project. Smith said the county's financial offices are in the process of preparing a recommendation for commissioners to consider on Tuesday.

"We are looking for the best package and best interest rate," Smith said.

Smith said the county had been in contact with the Local Government Commission and had "positive" comments concerning the project. Once approved by the commission, the county can bid out the project.

Some bids could be awarded as early as November or December, Smith said. The bulk of the work should be under way by spring. Smith said that a good portion of the equipment could be purchased on state contract.

The county has wrestled with the communication system issue for several years and had planned on using proceeds from a proposed quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax to pay for it. However, the increase was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in May.

County officials say the current system is old and outdated.

The project includes the purchase of between 1,500 to 1,600 radios, two towers -- one in Mount Olive and the other in Grantham, and buildings to house the equipment, computers and other "backroom equipment."

The county hopes to be able to buy the radios in bulk in order to save money. The county would purchase radios for all county fire departments, rescue squads and law enforcement agencies including those in the county's municipalities.

Smith said there had been some discussion about doing the project in phases, but it had been decided to do it all at once in order "to level the playing field" between all of the agencies involved.

Forcing fire departments to purchase their own radios would be "taxing" for some of the smaller rural departments that are already taking hits because of high fuel costs, county officials say.

The radios would allow emergency personnel to call the communications center without having to return to their vehicles.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners will hear a report from Dr. Jack St. Clair on Cherry Hospital. And Wayne County American Red Cross Executive Director Chuck Waller will explain the support of hurricane relief efforts and Blood Services Director Tammy Forrester will update commissioners on the "political blood drive." Commissioner Efton Sager has suggested a competitive blood drive between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. The blood drive will be held Nov. 25.