The radio system is maintained by the Alabama Regional Communication Systems, which announced earlier this week its plans to dissolve and hand over the reins to the 911 board.
Mike Fincher, who serves as 911 board chairman and is a member of the Communications Systems board, said Thursday that if the 800 MHz radio system isn’t updated in the next few years it will be useless.
“There are some replacement parts of our radio system that aren’t manufactured anymore,” Fincher said.
The radio platform was set up in the 1990s as a way for agencies in Calhoun County and Talladega County to communicate with each other in the event of emergencies arising from the chemical weapons stockpile the U.S. Army maintained in Anniston. When the last chemical weapons were destroyed, federal funding for the system was disbanded.
Fincher said the Calhoun County Commission appointed a committee of board members, local police and fire chiefs and county Administrator Ken Joiner to find the best entity to operate the 800 MHz system. If 911 agrees to take on the radio system, Fincher said, the 911 operation and radio operation would be kept separate.
“They are two different budgets, two different sets of employees, two different directors and no mixing of the monies,” he said.
However, both divisions would be governed by the 911 board.
The required upgrades for the 800 MHz platform would cost $3.487 million, according to Fincher. Part of that upgrade includes 26 radio consoles used by various agencies in Calhoun County, which Fincher said would cost $1.4 million. He suggested requiring the agencies to pay for their own console upgrades, which could be done through financing. The estimated cost to upgrade the consoles is between $55,000 and $75,000 per unit.
The master prime site, which Fincher described as the heart and brains of the radio platform, would cost $2.05 million to upgrade. Fincher said the board has the option for a seven-year finance plan through Motorola that would cost $324,000 annually.
To cut down on some of those costs, Fincher said the 988 radio users in Talladega County would pay a $12 a month user fee, which would give the 911 board an extra $144,000.
The Communication Systems has $200,000 left in a bank account, which would also be applied toward upgrades after the board is dissolved.
Fincher said user fees would still manage the day-to-day operations and costs, which are $22.50 per radio each month.
Jerry Jackson, 911 director, asked for more time to go over numbers, especially since 911 operates eight consoles that would require upgrades.
The 911 Board doesn’t have a deadline to decide whether they will acquire the 800 MHz radio system, Fincher said.
Paula Vincent, a nurse at Piedmont Health Care Center, said she left the meeting with more questions than she arrived with. Vincent said she’d hoped the 911 board would take questions from the public during the meeting.
“I feel like we just didn’t get very much information,” Vincent said. “They may consider it being none of my business, but as a taxpaying citizen I feel like it is.”
Anniston fire Chief Tony Taylor was on the commission that suggested the 911 board be the entity to take over the radio system.
Taylor said he thinks local agencies could afford the console upgrade if they look at “what they’re doing and what they have. I believe we can probably trim and cut back.”
Taylor said the radio system is important to Calhoun County and agencies have become accustomed to its functions, especially the ease of communication between different departments in various cities.
“We need to do what we can to save the system,” Taylor said.
A 911 board work session will be held at the Calhoun County Administration Building on May 21 at 9 a.m.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.