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Scott County, Iowa, Moves Forward on Radio Infrastructure Plan

The governing board of Scott County Emergency Communications Center, or SECC, unanimously approved three contracts related to the bi-state project, including an $8.55 million contract with RACOM for the purchase and installation of the new radio infrastructure.

by Jennifer Dewitt, Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa / May 17, 2019

(TNS) — Scott County's portion of a new regional emergency radio system took a step forward Tuesday after a lively discussion about the number of radios needed by first responders, specifically for small-town public safety agencies.

The governing board of Scott County Emergency Communications Center, or SECC, unanimously approved three contracts related to the bi-state project, including an $8.55 million contract with RACOM for the purchase and installation of the new radio infrastructure.

The SECC board also approved a Phase II contract for $344,166 with True North Consulting, the consulting team involved in the shared radio system. The board separately approved an intergovernmental agreement with Rock Island County to formalize the relationship between the two on the project. Both votes were unanimous.

But before the votes, Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher, SECC's vice chairman, questioned if the proposed 1,624 radio units are the actual number of radios used by emergency personnel county-wide.

His concerns stem from comments first responders made last month during a Scott County Emergency Management Association, or EMA, meeting, at which the small towns learned the costs of their radios and heard the idea that each agency could be asked to contribute a portion of the costs. "The funding is a separate discussion. Personally, I believe it is a really good idea," said Gallagher, who chairs EMA.

He added that when the idea of paying 10 or 20 percent "immediately made them suggest they could cut their number of radios if they were not free ... " The fact they "were going to barter for radios" leads him to think the numbers are inflated.

Scott County Board and SECC Chair Tony Knobbe, who gave the EMA presentation last month, said "I'm less confident than I was that this is the right number of radios."

But members of the radio project steering committee argued that they have invested months into planning the system and identifying how many walkie-talkie, mobile and command units each department needs.

"I tell you the work we did, the throats we squeezed to get to the every organization's accurate count, I'm confident we have the right number," said Decker Ploehn, Bettendorf city administrator and steering committee member.

The issue came under the microscope as SECC approved the contract with RACOM Corp. for the purchase of the new Quad-City P25 Radio System infrastructure and the radio units.

Another concern was that reducing the number of radios could negatively impact the county's volume discount.

David Farmer, Scott County's budget and administrative services director, said the county is allowed to reduce the order by 10 percent, per the contract, or about 160 radios. But of the 1,600 radios to be purchased, 1,100 radios are for Bettendorf, Davenport, SECC and EMA, and those numbers are not being disputed.

He said that means the remaining 500 radios are for the small-town agencies, and if they would reduce their requests by 10 percent it would mean only a difference of 50 radios — or only 3 percent of the total.

Farmer added that if SECC ends up with 50 extra units they could be replacement units and be assigned when new first responders join agencies or be sold to any additional agencies to join the network.

Eldridge Mayor Marty O'Boyle, who represents the small towns on SECC, suggested a task force or committee be created to provide oversight. "It cannot be perceived as free stuff. We need to set up a control process."

SEC/EMA Director Dave Donovan suggested a new intergovernmental committee to be formed with four members each from Scott and Rock Island counties could provide that function.

O'Boyle said the suggestion "is not to harm them (the agencies) or give them less ability to do their jobs. But you (larger cities) have good counts because you have full-time staffs. We have volunteers."

The radio discussion continued Thursday night at a regular Scott County Board meeting where county officials laid out details about the project's financing.

Farmer said the county is waiting the board's direction, but is planning to issue an estimated $19.3 million in general obligation bonds to cover the infrastructure, radios and refinance 2009 bonds from the creation of SECC 10 years ago.

Chairman Knobbe said there appears "to be a desire that all the agencies have some skin in the game whether that amount is zero to 100 percent (of the costs) that really is up to us."

The board decided to discuss the $5.8 million needed for the radios at its May 28 meeting.

"I don't want to enter into the $5.8 million (in bond financing) until I have a clear understanding that these small communities that don't have any skin to put in the game still are going to get their radios," Supervisor Ken Croken said.

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