At the regular meeting of the Communication System’s board of directors Tuesday, Mike Fincher, director of safety at Calhoun County Schools, said increasing user fees for the system wasn’t a viable option; the system needs to be taken over by an agency that could afford an overhaul.
“We’ve looked at every possible entity in Calhoun County that had a budget, governance and some connection to public safety,” Fincher said. “The only one that had all of that was the 911 board.”
Prior to the meeting, Fincher said he met with the Calhoun County Commission and said it had approved of the plan.
“This is just a suggestion,” Fincher said. “If the 911 board doesn’t agree to this, then the plan doesn’t work.”
Fincher said he plans to meet with the 911 board Thursday.
Calhoun County 911 Director Jerry Jackson said the board of directors has not had discussions about taking over the system. Thursday’s meeting will be the 911 board’s first chance to discuss the plan.
The 800 megahertz radio system links emergency response agencies in Calhoun and Talladega counties on a common digital radio network. The system was initially paid for by the federal government to provide extra safety in case of a chemical weapons accident at the Anniston Army Depot. With the destruction of all chemical weapons in 2011, the federal funding ended.
The directors had hoped money would become available through legislation, introduced in Montgomery earlier this year, that would have authorized a public vote on a property tax increase in the two counties. However, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the Senate’s president pro tempore, said he would not support the bill, effectively killing the measure.
Fincher said the estimated cost of the upgrade is $4 million. Under the new plan the Talladega and Calhoun portions of the system would be operated by separate entities, but still function as one system. Fincher said Tuesday he did not know the exact cost of Calhoun County’s upgrade.
Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner said the proposed plan gives the system more flexibility in finding a source of money. Because the County 911 board has a credit line, it would be able to borrow money or secure a bond — options not available to the Communication System board of directors. Joiner said that after an upgrade the system could work towards becoming self-sustaining through user fees.
Jackson said the 911 board is currently funded through phone surcharges in Calhoun County.
Fincher said if the 911 board agrees to the Communication System’s proposal, a timeline could be put in place for a full transition by the end of September, with an upgrade taking place during the transition period.
Fincher said he plans to keep users up to date on the information, but said it’s the goal of the transition and upgrade not to affect service or fees.
“There’s a change in budget and governance, but not fees or service,” Fincher said. “Ideally it would be like nothing changed for them.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.