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Communications gets a look in Caroline

BY PORTSIA SMITH

The Caroline County Board of Supervisors will continue discussions Thursday night on a new public safety communication system needed to comply with a federal mandate that could add nearly 4 cents to the tax rate.

Five members of the board met last week during a work session to discuss six options and to consider a recommendation from a committee on the topic. A vote is expected Thursday night.

The committee, which  included staff from the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Fire and Rescue and the school system, recommended that Caroline move toward a new 700-megahertz, seven-site system.

That system would give all county agencies the ability to communicate within their their own departments and also with other agencies  in the county, if needed,  aid County Administrator Charles Culley during the work session.

 For example, Fire and Rescue could have its own talk group, but also connect to the school system if buses were needed for an evacuation.

The recommendation would cost the county more than $15 .2 million over 15 years, Culley said, which includes a $7.8 million capital investment and nearly $237,000 in annual maintenance fees.

Despite the costs, which could add nearly 4 cents to the tax rate for the county to  afford it,  Culley said, “The committee believes that the standalone 700-megahertz system would be the responsible recommendation.”

The other options included:

Improving the current system. While it would be the least expensive option, it would provide less coverage than the county currently has.

Creating a new VHF or UHF simulcast system, but both had issues with frequencies.

Partnering with Hanover County or Spotsylvania County on its system, which seemed to be more costly over the years and would give Caroline minimized control over the system.

All local governments are required by a Federal Communications Commission mandate to improve existing communication systems. The mandate was adopted in 1995 with a deadline to have it complete by Jan. 1, 2013.

If the deadline is not met, the localities could face stiff penalties of up to $16,000 a day and have their current systems shut down.

The Caroline board plans to submit an application for a waiver so they have more time to comply, but in order to be approved a contract must be in place.

The board meets Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Community Services Center, just south of Bowling Green.

Portsia Smith:  540/374-5419

psmith@fredericksburg.com

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