The current radio system in Dawson County is inoperable in 20-50 percent of the county, according to information presented at the Sept. 13 work session of the board of commissioners.
And, when the switch to the new FCC-mandated narrow banding occurs on Jan. 1, 2013, there could be be even less coverage in the area. Because of this, the county will look at spending money from SPLOST V funds on upgrading the towers and equipment.
The current wideband VHF coverage (on portable radio) only covers 42.5 percent of the county, with much of the coverage located in the northwest corner of the county. Coverage is spotty along the Ga. 400 corridor where the majority of the countys population is located.
The FCC mandated narrowband VHF coverage is even less, covering only 35 percent of the county again, mostly in the northwest corner of the county. The portable radio is the primary way emergency workers communicate, according to information presented at the work session, and confirmed by county manager Kevin Tanner.
Dawson County has never had a comprehensive plan for communication, Tanner said, going on to say that the last real update to the radio system was in the mid-1990s.
Dawson County Emergency Services Fire Chief Lanier Swafford agreed. There have been no five, 10 or 15-year plans for a communications plan, he said at the work session. Very limited funds have been spent to update the system, Swafford continued.
Swafford also informed the commissioners that cell phones were not reliable enough in case of an emergency, saying approximately 75 percent of people in the county have a cell phone. If everyone decides to make a call at the same time, it wont work, he said. Its not good enough.
In the late-1990s, the federal government began to look at making a switch to require narrow banding, which led to a mandate for all public safety entities to switch by January of next year. Were at that stage now, Tanner said, calling it a flip-the-switch mode. Were ready to flip over at any time, he said, going on to say that the problem is that the new regulations lead to even less coverage within the county.
Earlier this year, the county had brought in Engineering Associates, Inc., an Alpharetta-based group to assist county officials in determining how to better the coverage area for communications.
At the Sept. 13 BOC work session, Tanner requested that the county take steps to move forward with Phases One and Two of the plan, with an estimated cost of $550,000 for both phases. Upgrades to the radio system was one of the Level 1 projects identified in SPLOST V. The County has recognized enough savings in the government project to move forward with the first two phases of the communications plan.
The first two phases primarily involve the addition of a new tower on the city of Dawsonvilles water tank, which will assist in recovery of the narrowband coverage which is currently lost when the switch is made.
The original estimates for the project from Engineering Associates were $316,500 for the first phase, and $325,000 for the second phase.
Tanner confirmed that, if the commissioners approve the project at their Thursday, Sept. 20 meeting, the phases will be complete in time for the January 2013 switch, meaning that current coverage should remain the same. Beyond the first two phases, two additional phases were recommended to improve emergency communications in the future.
The consultants estimated $316,000 for the third phase, and over $2 million for the fourth phase. Tanner said that there is currently no plan for those two phases. It could be done in a future SPLOST vote, he said.
Once all phases are complete, there will be three new towers in the county one at Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53, the one in downtown Dawsonville and one in the southwest corner of the county. The fourth tower would be the existing one at Amicalola Falls.
Also discussed at the BOC work session:
Approval to apply for a Violence Against Women grant, which has 75 percent of funding come from the federal government and a 25 percent match come from the local government. The grant funds part of the set-aside budget for the domestic violence investigator.
Approval to apply for a grant for the K9 program. There is no match for this grant, but there is no guarantee of how much monies will be awarded. In the past, it has gone to fund the salaries of two K9 handlers.
In the county managers report, Tanner informed the commissioners that SPLOST and LOST revenue were down in July 2012 compared to the same time period in 2011.
County attorney Joey Homans reported that a settlement over fire station #2, located on Liberty Drive, has been achieved. Upon completion of the fire station, staff reported leaking through the walls and ceilings. According to Homans, the architect and contractor for the project have offered the county $20,000 in settlement.
Additionally, the second public hearing for a proposed anti-sludge dumping ordinance is scheduled to be held at the upcoming Sept. 20 BOC meeting. The ordinance is in response to a propose sludge sprayfield in the county, located off of Lumpkin Campground Road and Harry Sosebee Road.