‘Can you hear me now?’

Published 5:13 pm Friday, March 25, 2022

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GATESVILLE – The Gates County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously here last week in favor of investing in excess of one million dollars to improve communications between its 911 Center and the county’s team of emergency responders.

The board agreed to the purchase of new radio consoles for the 911 Center as well as a combined 160 hand-held and vehicular radios that will be distributed among the county’s volunteer fire departments, Emergency Management personnel, Emergency Medical Services personnel, and the Sheriff’s Office.

The total purchase price of nearly $1.5 million will be financed through Southern Bank. The final details of that loan were not immediately made available.

At the outset of the discussion, Heather Ceney, the county’s E911 Supervisor, advised the commissioners that the newly renovated Dispatch Center needs $312,189 for radio consoles, to include all the wiring, cables, etc. The North Carolina 911 Board will cover $118,025 of that cost, leaving the county to pay the balance.

Ceney added she was seeking grants that will become available during the next budget year (FY 2022-23).

Jason Sample, the county’s Emergency Management Director, followed with a request of $1.1 million (minus sales tax) for the purchase of the 160 radios needed for emergency responders.

Sample said the county’s last major purchase of radios for its first responders came in 2013.

Sample added that he is currently in the process of applying for a state grant of up to $400,000 that, if awarded, could be applied towards the purchase of the new radios. He has until April 15 to apply.

The Board then heard from Finance Director Kim Outland regarding options to purchase this new equipment.

Option 1 was to use 100 percent ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds (the county is allocated to receive a total of $2,245,783 from the federal government in response to COVID-19).

Option 2 would be to finance the purchase of the radios. Outland then presented two options if the commissioners opted to proceed with financing the purchase. She said depending on the range of monthly payments (12 months, 36 months or 59 months), the amount of interest would fall between $29,000 and $83,000. There is no penalty to pay off the loan early.

Outland provided additional information about potential revenue sources for the county should they look at financing the purchase of the radios. She said the Medicare Hold Harmless funds the county receives is projected at over $596,000, but that actual number isn’t known until August. Outland also mentioned the possible grant funds that Sample addressed earlier.

“If you are thinking very optimistically, if he receives the full $400,000 grant plus what we’re looking at with the Medicare Hold Harmless money, you do have the potential to pay this off early,” Outland noted.

She added that the county is in “desperate need of these radios” and that the cost will increase after March 28. Additionally, Outland suggested the commissioners need to hold a workshop to prioritize how to spend the ARP funding.

“We can look at financing the purchase of the radios and then look for ways, to include the grant, even if it’s not the full $400,000, and the Hold Harmless funding, to pay off the loan early so that the county does not have to pay a lot in interest,” Outland recommended.

Craddock inquired of what would be the advantage of combining the two funding requests into one and financing that total amount.

A representative from Motorola on hand at the meeting said he is authorized to sweeten the deal by adding two back-up radios for the 911 Center as well as $30,000 in upgrades to the radio tower.

Craddock then put a motion on the floor to combine the two purchases and finance it through Southern Bank. Commissioner Jack Owens offered a second and that motion was approved without objection.

Afterwards, Gates County Sheriff Ray Campbell embraced the good news about the purchase of the new radios.

“The ones we have now are outdated; we have many units that we can no longer have serviced, they are so old that we can’t find batteries for them anymore,” Campbell told the Gates County Index. “I thank the commissioners for making this much-needed investment.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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