County approves new VHF radio system

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2016

First responders across Beaufort County will be getting a boost to communications with a new VHF radio system.

On Tuesday, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with a new system that the contractor guarantees will have a 95-percent coverage rate countywide. The new system comes with a price tag of $1,806,469, $520,000 of which will be used to build a new radio tower on Cherry Run Road in northwestern Beaufort County. The new tower will round out a five-tower system that will “piggyback” on state-maintained towers in Bath and Chocowinity, as well as two towers in Ponzer and Bayboro, both located just outside of Beaufort County.

Commissioners Gary Brinn and Hood Richardson expressed reservations about spending nearly $2 million on the project.

“I got some serious problems with this — not with program itself; I think this is something we need — but because I just for the life of me, can’t put my hands around spending $1.8 million,” Brinn said.

Brinn pointed out that the 2016-17 budget was the highest county budget he’s seen, and it came with a tax hike to Beaufort County residents.

Richardson took issue with the county receiving only one bid for the project and told the board the system proposed by Motorola Solutions Inc. is more than what is need to fix the county’s communications problems.

“It should be sent back for rebid, and we should entice as many bids as we can get. … We have solved this problem in the most expensive way possible,” Richardson said, adding that he believes additional repeaters on county water towers could adequately resolve the issue.

The project was put out to bid twice, according to board Chairman Jerry Langley, but each time it was only Motorola Solutions Inc. that responded.

“I think the public needs to understand this: there was other manufacturers allowed to bid on it and it didn’t happen,” Commissioner Frankie Waters said.

In recent years, Beaufort County has been plagued with problems with firefighters and EMTs receiving pages for emergency calls, as well as sending and receiving radio communications in certain areas. Langley, who served as a deputy for 14 years, said the current system is part of greater county problem.

“It’s part of the infrastructure, failing infrastructure in Beaufort County,” Langley said. “I know what it’s like to key that mike and — nothing. That is a terrible, terrible feeling. … It’s time for this county to start moving forward and stop stepping back.”

Langley said when people think about moving to any place they look at schools, law enforcement and health care before any other factors.

“If we are failing in those areas, we are failing,” Langley said.

“I think one of the things our citizens expect them to do is keep them safe,” Waters said. “Putting it off is not an answer. That’s a cop out as far as I’m concerned.”

Richardson’s motion to rebid the project failed 2-5. The contract with Motorola Solutions Inc. was approved by a 5-2 vote. A further 6-1, with Richardson dissenting, approved paying for the project in full using the fund balance. Paying for the project in full will drop the fund balance to 25.29 percent of yearly expenditures, though county policy targets a fund balance that is 35 percent of yearly expenditures.

Motorola Solutions Inc. also issued a $415,124 discount on the project to spur quick action that would allow the company to hit a third-quarter sales goal, Alligood said.