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[November 19, 2012]
County dips into reserves for radio upgrades
Nov 19, 2012 (The Wilson Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Wilson County is dipping into its reserve funding to pay for upgrades to the radio system the Wilson County Sheriff's Office uses.
The upgrades, according to Woodard, are a matter of safety for the public and his officers.
Deputies are using outdated radios. Woodard said during a presentation earlier this month that there have been a few times when officers communicate with each other and can't hear what the other person is saying, even in the same building.
"The antenna on top of the courthouse roof hasn't been working for years," Woodard said. "So that means when you try to communicate by radio right there in the sheriff's office, the signal has to find another antenna somewhere in the county and then it bounces back here." Woodard said some of the radios date back from when he worked in the jail in 1993.
Not only are the radios outdated, if they are not replaced, beginning Jan. 1, the FCC will fine the county.
Radios have to be replaced with digital 800 MHZ trunking radios.
"Operation in violation of the Commission's rules may subject licensees to appropriate enforcement action, including admonishments, license revocation, and/or monetary forfeitures of up to $16,000 for each such violation or each day of a continuing violation and up to $112,500 for any single act or failure to act," the notice from the FCC and Homeland Security Bureau states.
Lt. Jamie Blanks of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said the state of North Carolina has been warned for 13 years that this upgrade was going to happen. Now the clock is ticking, and the FCC isn't giving out a lot of waivers, Blanks said.
Additionally, the detention center needs an upgrade of their system because the one they have now could blow out, Woodard said.
The sheriff's office isn't receiving the $500,000 Viper system, which many state agencies use now.
The sheriff's office will use a Motorola 160 channel XPR6550 model. The Motorola is not digital as the Viper units are, Woodard said.
The cost is $95,301.07, and that will buy 27 vehicle radios, 23 handheld radios and two antennas.
"You never know what could go wrong because we have severe weather here," Woodard pointed out. "If someone needs our help in another county or if another agency is coming to help in our county, we need to be able to talk with each other." Without the system, Woodard said they would have to try to find another way to communicate.
"I guess we would call on the phone and then whoever it is could relay the message they got from the phone to the radio," Woodard said. "That lapse in time is critical. We need to be able to communicate quickly." HOW ABOUT A WAIVER Mike Hodgson, of the N.C. Highway Patrol, said the FCC may not be sympathetic at this point about why the radios are not updated.
"Unfortunately, it's been 13 years to get to the point where we're about to arrive at on Jan. 1," Hodgson said. "So the FCC isn't interested in hearing about you're learning about this yesterday and so they should grant a waiver. However, they are willing to consider counties, agencies, municipalities that perhaps have a plan to move to another level." Hodgson said Wilson County is not alone in needing more time to comply.
"The Highway Patrol has a similar situation that we have been facing ourselves as we migrate the agency to Viper," Hodgson said. "Even though we manage and maintain Viper, the highway patrol is a tenant on the system just like anybody else. The Viper system is there to serve all of the emergency responders in the state." One of the things the FCC wants to know is if the entity wanting the waiver would be able to complete the transition from wide band to narrow band in the six months they could allow for the waiver.
"If you ask for six months of additional time, they're going to expect you to provide a pretty concise level of documentation that says, I'm going to meet that goal," Hodgson warned commissioners. "They're not interested in hearing how you didn't meet it and you need another six months." Commissioners decided not to ask for the waiver, and just to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
THE LOCK UP Woodard also asked commissioners for money that would be paid in increments to fix the control panel that ensures a door in the Wilson County Jail is locked when it says it is.
"Let me make this clear, there is no danger in inmates getting to (the) public," Woodard said.
Woodard said the panel operates everything in the jail from the sprinklers, lights and monitors to the doors. He said some of the equipment is so old that it can't be repaired anymore.
Woodard had the detention center evaluated and said it is imperative that the jail be able to work from the control panel.
"We have a master key to use to make sure doors are locked," Woodard said. "I want to be sure that the staff is safe and the inmates are safe as well."In the assessment of the detention center, Mike Suriano of Norment Detention Securities said the company that put the doors in the detention center has been out of business for five years.
"We don't see where any maintenance has ever been done there," Suriano said.
The price tag to get things in order is $128,373. That amount would not be paid all at once.
The maintenance contract for three years is $25,408.
MONEY PLAN Woodard said he doesn't believe in presenting a problem without having a plan to solve it.
The plan commissioners accepted to pay back the money from the reserves is to have Woodard continue housing inmates from other counties in the Wilson County Jail.
Woodard said he has agreed, so far, to keep 25 inmates.
"We are able to collect from the 25 inmates from $25,000 to $35,000 each month," Woodard said.
County Manager Ellis Williford said the money that has been collected from that program thus far has gone into the general fund.
Williford said there should be no problem replacing the money in the county's reserves this fiscal year.
Woodard said the inmates are not integrated with Wilson inmates while they are here.
"Even when they are released, we take them back to the facility in their county to be released," Woodard said.
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