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BOC approves communication upgrades
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The county's emergency communication capabilities will be improved following votes by commissioners last week to fund system upgrades.

Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said approving his request for a budgeted allocation of $212,000 for E-911 system improvements is vital to the safety of citizens and his deputies.

"This is a critical need for our officers and our citizens," Carlisle said.

In service since 1996, the current system, which fields an estimated 150,000 calls for the sheriff's office and Dawson County Emergency services annually, is the oldest in the state and is no longer repairable due to the lack of available replacement parts, according to Carlisle.

"There have been no upgrades to it since [1996]," he said.

The commission awarded the new contract to AT&T for $212,334. While not the low bid on the project, Carlisle said AT&T is better equipped to fulfill the county's needs.

"AT&T has assured us that if our 911 center goes down they will get us operational [quickly] on one of their mobile systems ... and they have a two-hour window of service. They have people out of Gainesville that can be right over here," he said.

The new system will be fully operational within 90-120 days of the contract execution.

In a separate matter, the board also approved the allocation of $251,000 to upgrade the local public safety communication system.

Commissioners last September approved the use of 1-cent sales tax revenue in the amount of $641,500 to upgrade the system to meet a federal mandate that requires narrow banding for all public safety frequencies.

According to County Manager Cindy Campbell, the cost of construction was not included in the initial projected rate.

Designed in phases, the upgrades include a new antenna atop the city of Dawsonville's water tower and the construction of a small building for radio equipment. The third and fourth stages would extend the coverage areas on both the county's east and west sides, without requiring new towers.

The overall estimated cost of the project is $3.16 million over 10 years, with a portion to be paid through grants and the remainder funded with revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

Improvements to the county's public safety communication system were tier-one projects on SPLOST V, which was approved by nearly 87 percent of the vote in 2007.

At that time, the plan was for an 800 MHz system that would have allowed connectivity with Forsyth and Hall counties' systems.

The economic downturn, which resulted in fewer than anticipated tax revenue collections, forced officials to re-evaluate and make improvements, instead, to the current system.