Monday, November 17, 2008

County Budget: Hour 2

Choosing to tackle both big issue votes in one fell swoop, the county board has now diverted from the operating budget to the capital budget for the sake of addressing the concerns of the firefighters and EMS personnel in attendance.

Supervisor Bob Salov introduced the motion, which would allocate $680,000 to purchase interoperable radios for fire and EMS departments throughout the county. This is on top of $12 million the county is looking to borrow in order to upgrade radio towers and other infrastructure to become interoperability-compliant.

The amendment would purchase aproximately 15 upgraded radios for every department in the county -- not enough to fully equip any of them. The county comptroller estimated the measure would increase the capital budget by 1.6 percent.

Departments nationwide are facing the same dilemma before those in Dane County following an FCC mandate issued several years ago that all emergency responders utilize interoperable radios by 2013, which are more technologically advanced and utilize a universal set of frequencies that allow different departments to work together and talk to each other in emergencies.

Small emergency departments are having trouble ponying up the cash for the upgrades however. On top of the millions it will cost the county to upgrade its infrastructure to become compliant, some county supervisors would like the county to contribute hundreds of thousands more to buy the radios in bulk and create a pool for city, village and town emergency responders to share.

"Let's let the county take that first step and then... let's get together and let's talk some more," Supervisor Ronn Ferrell said. "Here's some money, it's not all of it, but it's a portion of it. We're willing to go this far, now you have to come back to us and we have to work this out. That's the message we need to send."

Other supervisors argued beginning work on infrastructure upgrades should be the county's focus for the coming year. With the deadline to upgrade still several years off, they say there's time yet to look for other options.

"We don't need these radios at this time," Board Chair Scott McDonell said. "We need them before this shift to the new frequencies happens."

The amendment failed on a 14-22 vote.

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