Two meetings were slated  for Feb. 10 to approve borrowing up to $21 million for a new emergency radio and communications system in Jackson County.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners set a called meeting for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10 to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the  Jefferson Public Building Authority to finance the system upgrade. The authority was slated to also meet on Feb. 10 at 6:15 p.m. to approve the revenue bonds.

The BOC voted Dec. 21, to approve a communications system and services agreement with Motorola Solutions, Inc., to upgrade the county’s public safety radio system.

Those upgrades come with a hefty price tag totaling $21 million with $12.3 million in maintenance and support for years 4-15. 

The Project 25 Public Safety Grade Trunked Radio System is expected to serve the county for at least 15 years and provide more reliable coverage than the current system.

County manager Kevin Poe said it will take two years to get the new system built-out and operational.

BACKGROUND

The county previous hired TUSA Consulting Services to study the county’s radio system needs.

In a presentation to the board last year, TUSA cited a number of problems with the counties current system:

• The county's current system is reaching the end of its life cycle and will soon need to be replaced. The current system is also outdated compared to other systems now available.

• The current system has inadequate radio coverage in some areas of the county, including some spots along I-85 and around the fast-growing Braselton area. That is especially true with the county's portable radios, the report said.

• The current system is unable to easily talk with surrounding counties or state emergency agencies because it isn't compatible with other area communities. TUSA said that although Braselton covers four counties, "Communicating with neighbors is nearly non-existent." Gwinnett, Hall, Barrow and Athens-Clarke counties all have modern 800 Mhz P25 systems while Banks and Madison use proprietary systems, all incompatible with Jackson County's existing system.

• The current county radios were designed for commercial markets, not public safety agencies which need more durable and robust units.

• Many of the county's nine communications link sites are lacking. Most have obsolete cooling and backup power systems and many are too small to expand to house a modern system. Some of the sites had not been well-maintained by the county. "Almost all of the existing buildings, and the compounds they reside in, cannot support the space needed for a modern public safety radio system without substantial cost...." the report said.

The county's radio communications network includes all public safety agencies, along with public schools.

TUSA consulted with county staff, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County Correctional Institute, city police departments, volunteer fire departments and the school systems on the project.

The county will also tie-in with Hall County’s master switch. 

The county’s share will total a little over $19 million, with the remainder coming from the various other public safety entities and school systems.

Poe proposed using revenues from SPLOST VI (along with a handful of CARES Act funds) to cover the debt service through 2026. From 2027-2031, funds could come from the General Fund or a future SPLOST.

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