published Friday, May 31st, 2013

Hamilton County weighs buying radios for $6.75 million

Other Action

In other business commissioners:

• Agreed to consider a $25,945 bid from Parris Roofing and Sheet Metal Co. to reroof the Agriculture Soil Conservation Center.

• Withdrew two items, including one-year unit pricing contracts with Big Woody's Tree Service and Shelton Landscape Supply to trim trees along highways and create mulch for the county recreation department.

• Agreed to consider a $52,845 contract with Modern Cable Technology to upgrade backbone cable at the county's telecommunications office.

• Agreed to consider executing two wetland conservation easements at Enterprise South Nature Park to mitigate initially impacting the wetlands during construction.

Unless commissioners vote next week to spend $6.75 million, Hamilton County might hear radio silence from surrounding counties and state and federal agencies during future emergencies, according to Human Services Administrator Don Allen.

The Hamilton County Commission's Finance Committee voted Thursday to recommend passage of a $6.75 million contract with Motorola to replace the 1,697 radios owned by various county departments and the sheriff's office.

The commission will consider the purchase Wednesday at its regular meeting.

Allen said the upgraded radios will ensure the county complies with Federal Communications Commission infrastructure requirements and will allow county employees to speak over new statewide radio networks.

The federal regulations require government radios to operate at 800 megahertz and to have an all-digital format, which uses a smaller portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The state, county and city have been working toward meeting federal regulations by installing appropriate digital radio towers and signal boosters since 2011, Allen said. With current infrastructure, digital radios work in 95 percent of the county, Allen said. The trouble is, the radios the county has now aren't all digital.

It's been a long process, Allen said.

"We've had 800 Mhz radios since the late '80s, so that technically has been around for a while. But we didn't have [digital] infrastructure in the late '80s," Allen said.

According to an FCC database, 116 of the 142 licensed public safety transmitters in Hamilton County comply with the FCC format, and many of the 26 transmitters that don't are backed up by compliant ones. But those owned by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority and the City of East Ridge are not.

FCC officials declined to comment Thursday on whether Hamilton County government is currently out of compliance with the Jan. 1, 2011, deadline for the new format, since it has transmitters but no working radios.

Officials also declined to comment on when older analog radios would stop working.

Mayor Jim Coppinger said after Thursday's meeting that, if approved, the purchase would alleviate some requests by Sheriff Jim Hammond, Juvenile Court Administrator Sam Mairs and others, who asked commissioners for money in the 2014 budget to upgrade radios in their departments.

The discount Motorola is offering for buying in bulk also will save $865,750, Coppinger said.

The radios would come with a five-year warranty, but that didn't impress Finance Committee Chairman Fred Skillern.

"The federal will change [the requirements] within five years, so we don't need to worry about the warranty," Skillern said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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