Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Oconee County Commissioners Vote to Go Forward with New Radio System

Radios Not Included

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight decided to go forward with the building of a new radio communication system in partnership with Greene County that will be one step toward upgrading Oconee County’s emergency and other communication services.

The Board agreed to lease a new tower that will be built in the south of the county, to an intergovernmental agreement with Greene County over operation of the service and to a contract with Motorola for the equipment.

The Motorola contract also includes a financing arrangement whereby the county will borrow $3.2 million–its share of the $8.4 million project–to begin work on the communication system immediately.

The county plans to pay off that $3.2 million with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax receipts that come in over the next six years or with a hoped-for $2.9 million grant from the federal government.

If the SPLOST authorized by voters last March does not reach its projected goal of $40.4 million and the county does not get its federal grant, unfunded parts of the loan would have to be paid off from the general fund of the county, Finance Director Jeff Benko said.

The county has received $2,053,759 over the first five months of the current SPLOST collections, or an average of $410,751 per month, based on figures Benko released to me today.

If that figure is projected out for the full 72 months of collections, the county would receive $29,574,133 rather than $40.4 million projected.

Benko said tonight he believes that revenues will grow and the county will meet its projected $40.4 million target.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood said another option the county could exercise is switching funds from other allocations within SPLOST approved by the voters–if the argument could be made that the funding no longer was needed.

The cost of radios for the new system is not included in the $3.2 million expenditure approved by the Board tonight.

No concrete plans for purchase of the needed radios has been put forward, though one option discussed at the April 20 meeting of the Board is paying for the radios with SPLOST funds if the federal grant is approved and used to pay off the loan from Motorola.

Capt. Jimmy Williams from the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department said the Oconee Areawide Radio System (OARS), as the system is called, is necessary because the current radio system the county emergency services rely on is outdated.

Federal requirements that the current signal be split would mean the county would have to spend money to upgrade that system if it did not decide to build OARS, Williams said.

The $3.2 million loan is interest free for the first year, and the interest rate from there on will be 3.6 percent.

The tower that will be shared with Greene County will be on property owned by John Arthur Hale on Colham Ferry road in the south of the county.

Commissioner Jim Luke voted against the lease agreement tonight but not the other parts of the project because he said he doesn’t think the county should have a lighted tower in the southern part of the county. He did not offer an alternative.

“I simply can't support a 300-foot high strobe light in the south end of the county,” Luke said.

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