Communication system on commission agenda

The Blount County Commission took a step closer to joining Alcoa and Maryville in purchasing a $4.4 million Motorola communications system at Tuesday night’s workshop.

Sheriff James Berrong said the system would update the current system, improve the quality of emergency responder communication throughout the county and enable better communication with other agencies in 10 other neighboring counties.

Berrong said the county’s portion would amount to $165,000 annually for 10 years and would come out of the sheriff’s office budget. Finance director Steve Jennings said the state had negotiated the price. In addition, commissioners would have the option each year of paying down what is owed and own it earlier than planned.

Commissioner Steve Hargis, public information officer for the Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department, said the move was needed in part because the Federal Communication Commission is mandating it. “I know this is going to be required from the FCC,” he said.

Samples said the FCC is narrowing the bandwidth from 25 kilohertz to 12 and a half to 6 and a quarter kilohertz. “The system Blount County has will no longer be able to handle that narrow bandwidth,” he said. “Bottom line is, it’s a change from analog to digital.”

The sheriff explained that the current radio system has some years on it. “I came to work in 1977, and it was an old system then,” he said.

“In a few years, we’ll have a quarter the size of frequency we have now,” Berrong said. “We could take the money we’re spending on it now and apply it to the new one and have a system that will last for years.

Commissioner Ron French asked about competitive bidding for the system. Jennings said the purchasing agent for the county had assured him that state guidelines had been followed in how the contract was bid out.

Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves asked the sheriff’ to get an estimate on how much he spends annually on maintaining the current system.

During input for items on the agenda, Linda King asked the commission to consider not buying the new equipment. “Wouldn’t we all like the newest technology? We certainly can only buy what we can afford. When will the commissions step up and say, ‘No’ to more spending,” she said. “Here’s my solution. Ask the sheriff to cut his budget.”

Douglas Benton of Alcoa asked if the system went out to bid and said the county shouldn’t go into debt for this. “We need to learn to say no,” he said.

The commissioners voted 19-1 with commissioner Joe McCulley voting no and David Ballard not present.

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