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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's justices of the peace on Thursday recommended spending $3.75 million for a new radio system for the Sheriff's Office, jail and other departments, with a promise to consider more money to help smaller fire and police departments buy needed new radios.

"We need to commit some money now to buy a package," Mike McKenzie, justice of the peace for District 1, said. "We can always do more later if we choose to do that."

What’s next

Benton County’s Finance Committee on Thursday recommended spending up to $3.75 million on a radio system. The Committee of the Whole was to consider that appropriation when that panel met Sept. 11.

Source: Staff report

The Finance Committee approved spending $3.75 million for the new radio system. The proposal was to go to the Committee of the Whole and then to the Quorum Court for further discussion.

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and finance chairman, said the justices of the peace can continue discussing how to help the smaller agencies at other meetings.

Susan Anglin, justice of the peace for District 9, said she wanted more of a commitment the smaller agencies will be considered but the committee took no formal action on that.

"I want to be fair to all groups," Anglin said. "I'm not feeling that fairness."

The Public Safety Committee recommended proceeding with the radio system only after a four-hour meeting Tuesday night. County Judge Barry Moehring said he wants the county to consider the radio system separate from a new computer-assisted dispatch and records management system included in the proposal brought to the Quorum Court by Sheriff Shawn Holloway.

Holloway asked the Quorum Court to spend about $4.8 million for a new system for the Sheriff's Office and jail, the Road Department, emergency services, the Coroner's Office and the rural fire services, which will distribute the equipment among smaller fire departments. The proposal also includes a $250,000 contingency to cover unexpected costs. The estimated cost to cities to buy their own police and fire department radios is about $750,000.

Holloway said the Sheriff's Office and other officials have worked for several years on ways to replace the 15-year-old system the county uses.

The county would buy consoles for the dispatch center, along with mobile radios for vehicles, portable radios for individuals and pagers for the rural fire departments. Benton County would also buy mobile radios and portable radios for city fire departments using county-owned fire apparatus.

The new radios wouldn't cover all of the needs of fire and police departments in the smaller cities. The smaller cities would need to buy all new radios and equipment to be compatible with the new system. Each new mobile radio costs about $1,295, according to information presented to the Quorum Court. Each portable radio costs about $995. Pagers cost about $695 each.

At Tuesday's meeting, Holloway offered to spend about $200,000 from the Sheriff's Office communication fund and the SSI fund, which receives money for inmates in the jail who are receiving Social Security benefits. He said both funds are restricted but can be used to buy equipment.

Much of the discussion at Thursday's meeting centered on the needs of the smaller cities and volunteer fire departments. The justices of the peace agreed they will continue to work on that issue.

Vester Cripps, Gentry fire chief and president of the Benton County Fire Protection Association, told the committee the lower-tier radios initial cost estimates were based on aren't adequate for the fire departments.

"The lower-tier radio is not the right radio for us to purchase for the fire service," Cripps said. "That changes the numbers and it changes the dollars."

Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said the county has limits on how much it can do for other agencies. He said the county is bearing the full cost of the new radio system all of those agencies will be using. Asking the departments to bear some of the cost of radios isn't unreasonable, Jones said.

"I don't know why we need to be the backstop for all of that," Jones said.

The justices of the peace agreed they will continue discussing the needs of the smaller departments.

"We can come back to finance with a proposal to purchase additional radios," Allen said.

General News on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Benton County panel OKs new radio plan

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