After hearing the emergency communications system is “in near failure,” the Hawkins County Commission Monday night approved up to $425,000 for new emergency communications equipment to improve contact between first responders.
The resolution, introduced by Commissioner Dawson Fields, would approve the funds for much needed equipment and upgrades on Bays Mountain, Town Knob in Rogersville and Short Mountain in Mooresburg.
After Commissioner Mike Herrell asked for a breakdown of the funds, Emergency Management Agency Director Jamie Miller addressed the commission on the needed equipment upgrades, saying that the current system is “in near failure.”
“After numerous solutions were given to the public safety committee, this is the recommendation of that committee for a replacement radio system,” Miller said. “This would be a complete radio system from the antennas to the plug in the wall. It will be a similar system to what we have now. A lot of weaknesses have been identified in the current system and the combiner systems.”
According to Miller, once the radio system leaves the power building, it would be a replacement all the way to the antenna and every device in it.
A Community Block Development Grant the district has applied for if received will be for $250,000. Should the attempt for grant funds fail, funds would be taken out of the undesignated fund balance.
“If you get the grant, the other (money) would come out of capital (outlay)?” Herrell asked.
“I will say, just for information purposes, this system continues to give additional problems to the point where you can see some visually see some of these towers and not be able to get into them,” Miller said.
When Herrell asked if the funds would “fix the problem,” Miller addressed about coverage from one end of the county to the other.
“Coverage and connectivity are two different things,” Miller said. “The public safety committee feels that this is the best, most economical and feasible solution. Is this a $10 million system? Absolutely not, but they feel that this fulfills the need with the information the committee has received.”
Herrell then asked if Miller would be asking for any more money for the system, Miller said that there may be unforeseeable things that may come up, but at this time he doesn’t see any problems.
On the new site for a future tower in the northern part of the county, Miller said that several people have approached County Mayor Jim Lee about donating property for the new site.
Miller said Tuesday morning that the county intends to add another site pending Federal Communications Commission licensing requirements.
Gibson asked how long it would take due to install the system. Miller said that some vendors pre-COVID-19 had said four months, but that is subject to change. This project would also be bid out, adding a little more time.
“All electronic suppliers are facing shipping issues at the moment,” Miller said. “I would imagine we’d be no different.”
When Commissioner Donnie Talley expressed concern about the system, Miller cited an example in Talley’s district.
“In your district, Highway 113 and Russell Road, you can see the lights on the (WSJK) Channel 2 tower (on Short Mountain in Mooresburg), but you can’t get into that repeater site with a handheld (radio),” Miller said.
Miller said that the new system would “greatly improve” coverage in the Mooresburg area.
“We have a tower on Short Mountain that we pay $20,000 a year to lease that’s never been tied into the system and its never been at its full capacity,” Miller said. “That site on mobile radios cover nearly the whole county. Obviously, if you’re paying a lease on that site, you want that to be a transmission site, especially when it is the highest point in the county.”
Miller said that the Short Mountain site only had a transmitter, but was not part of the simulcast that goes all over the county.
Miller feels that the tower sites used now need to be put online as quickly as possible.
The resolution was passed 19-1, with Talley voting no.