Emergency calls don’t always reach emergency workers and volunteers in Madison County — at least not in a timely manner.

And officials say problems are due to an outdated radio system. So county commissioners are almost ready to pull the trigger on a new system.

“This is public safety,” said District 3 commissioner Theresa Bettis. “I would not like to delay this any longer. We have to make it work. It’s life and death and it’s critical. Don’t want to postpone any further. We need to come together.”

Other commissioners agree that action is needed quickly, but the group ultimately agreed to wait a week to review documents presented by 911 director Brenan Baird.

The county received two bids for a new system and Baird recommended that the commissioners approve a contract with Mobile Communications America, Inc. (MCA) for $1,069,084 for a new radio system. The board also received a proposal from Gunby Communications, Inc. for $984,353. Gunby has handled radio services for over 20 years, and Baird said the service has not met the needs of the county and that MCA will be a far better option.

County commissioners agreed last year to allocate $905,000 in sales tax money for 911 upgrades. There is not enough sales tax money to handle all of the necessary upgrades, which include replacing the radio system and the old brick house that serves as the current 911 center. Baird said that after the allocation of bonds, which allowed the county to get money up front instead of over six years, there is about $780,000 actually available in sales tax money.

Commissioners will have to consider how much they’re willing to allocate to the upgrades beyond the sales tax money. Likewise, the proposed radio upgrade does not include the cost of new radios for county volunteer fire departments and city police departments who will need new devices to communicate with the new system. A couple of fire officials asked the board to provide funds for that instead of leaving the burden on the volunteer departments.

“So far the proposal is fire departments to pay for own and the others are paid for out of the project,” said Danielsville chief Marc Perry. “We’re asking the commissioners for help on that.”

Baird said the total combined cost of the new radios for the VFDs and police departments is $163,498.

A couple of commissioners expressed a desire to help out the departments with the cost, but no decisions were reached.

“No one is wanting to delay this and everybody sees the need of this,” said commissioner Brian Kirk. “What I would like to see is enough time and come back and vote next week, but figure out how to pay and limit amount fire departments have to put into that.

PROPERTY PURCHASE

In a separate matter Monday, the commissioners agreed by a 3-2 vote — with Bettis and Lee Allen opposing and Kirk, Tripp Strickland and Derek Doster voting “Yes” — to purchase a 1.58-acre lot at 50 Albany Avenue next to the old funeral home across from the government complex for $80,000 from Robert Hooper. The commissioners recently purchased the old funeral home on Albany Avenue near the government complex. Court space is limited in the government complex and county commission chairman John Scarborough said the locale is a good spot future government expansion.

Newly elected BOC chairman Todd Higdon said he didn’t understand the point of the purchase. He said it will likely be used as parking space, adding that he counts 297 parking spaces adjacent to the government complex, “more than any in north Georgia.” He said the $80,000 was “way above fair market value” and that the money spent on the property could be better used on radios for the fire departments. He also said he felt like the new commissioners coming onto the board should have been consulted on the matter.

OTHER BUSINESS

Also Monday, Scarborough announced that interim recreation department director Shelley Parham has been selected as the full-time director. The commissioners will make the promotion official Nov. 30, with the new role taking effect Dec. 1.

Scarborough announced that the county has received a check from the state for $713,509 for the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) program. The county must match 30 percent of the grant.

The board approved a 50-year lease agreement with the Poca Volunteer Fire Department and agreed to start the process of adopting Wesley Chapel Drive and Fowler Freeman Lane. The group also agreed to initiate the process of abandoning three roads: Andrew Adams Road, Ray O’Kelley Road and a portion of O’Kelley Road.

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