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County, city to share 911 costs

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Bartholomew County is partnering with Columbus to split the cost of purchasing a new 911 radio system for all emergency agencies, a system that was last updated in 2001.

Cost for the new Motorola system is estimated at $529,318.97. The system could handle emergency communications for the next decade, Bartholomew County Emergency 911 Operations Director Ed Reuter said.

The equipment is needed for three public safety reasons, Reuter told Bartholomew County Council members Tuesday.

The current system causes intermittent communication outages, including one that occurred during a Feb. 17 police-hostage standoff at a Taylorsville motel. If the current system were to completely crash, it would take up to four months to replace, Reuter said.

Replacement radio component parts for the current system, built in the 1980s, have not been made since 2009.

State and federal regulations require all 911 dispatch systems to be able to communicate with emergency departments statewide within two years. Local officials have received word from the Indiana Integrated Public Safety Commission that Bartholomew is one of 14 counties expected to upgrade their systems in the first phase of a statewide transition program, Reuter said.

There are also substantial financial incentives to act quickly, he said.

If both city and county officials purchase the new radio system outright within six months, rather than delay their decision or seek payments through a lease-to-own arrangement, taxpayers will receive more than $70,000 in recently negotiated savings with Motorola and local distributor Owens Communications, Reuter said.

“No one likes to spend this kind of money. But if we don’t do it now, we will have to spend more later,” Reuter said.

Under a proposed joint agreement, county officials would be required to pay the entire amount upfront, but the city would later reimburse 55 percent of the costs to the county, according to a proposal distributed to county council members Tuesday night.

That means the county will pay $238,193.53 of the total cost, while the city’s investment would be $291,125.43, the proposal stated.

While Bartholomew County only has $165,388 in its 911 wireless fund, the county commissioners have been setting aside economic development income tax dollars over the past few years for the purchase, county Auditor Barb Hackman said.

Borrowing from EDIT funds to make the upfront payment would allow the county to also cover the $72,805 shortfall after receiving city reimbursement, Hackman said.

Bartholomew County commissioners approved the radio system purchase Monday.

Columbus City Council unanimously approved paying for the city’s portion from the city’s general fund on first reading June 3.

“I don’t see any issue paying for this,” said County Councilman Jorge Morales, who is on the joint city-county committee that has examined the radio system for the past three years.

But while the county council voted unanimously Tuesday to support the arrangement, approval is contingent upon final passage by Columbus City Council Tuesday night.

Discussions regarding the replacement of the current radio system between city and county authorities have taken place for almost three years, Reuter said. A variety of options were discussed and considered with different vendors during that time, he said.

Besides cost, another major consideration was the county’s ability to get service and parts quickly in the event of a lightning strike or other natural disaster, Reuter said.

Under the proposal, a technician with Columbus-based Owens Communications could be expected to be on the scene as quickly as one hour after a problem arises, while parts from a Chicago-area provider would arrive within one day, Reuter told the council.

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