The Dawson County commission is weighing whether to use 1-cent sales tax revenue to upgrade the local public safety communications system to meet a Jan. 1 federal deadline.
County Manager Kevin Tanner said the county is currently capable of hitting a switch and being in compliance with narrow banding for all public safety radio frequencies.
According to Dawson County Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford, however, doing so without upgrading the system would leave a vast area of the county out of range for portable radio communications.
"What that does is put not only our staff but the community at a higher risk because we aren't able to communicate outside the vehicles," he said.
"We're going to be losing about 10 percent of our communication ability with portables. And for that reason, we have not yet gone to narrow banding."
A communication plan presented to the commission last week would address the issue and provide reliable portable radio coverage throughout the county.
Designed in phases, the proposed upgrades would first include a new antenna atop the city of Dawsonville's water tower and the construction of a small building for radio equipment.
"We've already got the frequencies obtained. It will be some radio reprogramming and building the site," Swafford said. "We feel confident we can get that done by the end of the year."
The third and fourth phases, which include adding the school board and public works communication systems, would continue to 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 funded with revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.
"This project is a level one project in SPLOST V," Swafford said. "There's money allocated in SPLOST V for communications system improvements and these funds would be coming from SPLOST V dollars."
Tanner said the savings recognized from bond proceeds on the county's government center are adequate to cover the project's first phase, estimated at $317,000. The second phase is expected to come in at $642,000.