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County using 1-cent tax to upgrade radio system
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The Dawson County commission voted last week to use 1-cent sales tax funds to improve the public safety radio system.

According to officials, the upgrade will extend portable radio coverage to meet a federal mandate that requires narrow banding for all public safety radio frequencies by Jan. 1.

To be rolled out in phases, the plan includes a new antenna atop the city of Dawsonville's water tower and the construction of a small building for radio equipment.

Lanier Swafford said he is confident the work can be completed by year's end.

"We've already got the frequencies obtained. It will be some radio reprogramming and building the site," Swafford said.

The third and fourth phases, which include adding the school board and public works communication systems, will extend the coverage area on both the county's east and west sides, without requiring new towers.

"Our long-range plan is not to have to build any additional towers, even in phase 4," Swafford said. "We hope that we can take the Blue Ridge site and move it to a cell phone tower. And they're currently building a cell phone tower at Big Canoe and we hope to get on those existing 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 coming from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

Improvements to the county's public safety communications 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 negatively affected tax collections, forced officials to re-evaluate the situation. They ultimately opted to improve the current system.

County Manager Kevin Tanner said the savings realized from bond proceeds on the county's government center, also a SPLOST V tier-one project, are enough to cover the project's first phase, estimated to cost about $317,000.