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Caroline wants more time to upgrade its communication system


The Caroline Board of Supervisors is asking for a two-year extension to a federal mandate to upgrade the county’s public safety communication system.

The decision Thursday was a change from a recent committee recommendation to go with the county’s own 700-megahertz, seven-site system.

The change came after County Administrator Charles Culley said his staff sought guidance from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, a state agency.

VITA’s David Warner, a radio engineer, who has worked with Caroline before, said the county did not have to have a signed contract to request an extension.

Culley said Warner suggested asking for the extension to study both the stand-alone option and a possible partnership with Spotsylvania County.

Warner indicated that regional partnerships carry weight with the Federal Communications Commission. Culley said the county also could include a possible partnership with Hanover County in the extension request.

In the recent work session, officials thought partnering with Hanover or Spotsylvania seemed more costly and would give Caroline less control.

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 its own system.

That system would give all county agencies the ability to communicate within their departments and also with other agencies, if needed, Culley said. 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.

A stand-alone system 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.

Culley said those costs could add 4 cents to the real-estate tax rate. The county currently has $6 million from capital improvement funds that could go toward this project, said Supervisor Floyd Thomas Thursday night.

Thomas, who said most residents would not be in favor of paying more taxes for a few departments to have new radios, wanted the board to look at the possibility of adding wireless capabilities to the radio towers.

“We could turn lemon into lemonade and do something that could change the county,” Thomas said.

It’s not clear what would happen if the FCC denied the extension request, but Culley said Caroline has shown good faith. All local governments are required by the FCC to improve existing communication systems. The mandate was adopted in 1995 with a deadline of Jan. 1, 2013.

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

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419