Dickinson Co. is looking for a way to finance the purchase of an 800 MHz radio

Communicating with KHP, other agencies is a problem

By KATHY HAGEMAN
Dickinson County Public Information Coordinator

Over the years, the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department has had numerous incidents where officers had to contact the Kansas Highway Patrol; Unfortunately, this communication is often hampered because the two entities use incompatible radios.

Dickinson County is one of the few remaining counties in the state that has not yet migrated to the statewide 800 MHz radio system, used by public safety agencies statewide. .

“Having the 800 system would have been helpful a few weeks ago when Highway Patrol started a chase in our county,” said Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman. “Our guys (the sheriff’s deputies and the Abilene police) got involved and they couldn’t talk (with the KHP) because the systems don’t work with each other.

“We resisted as long as we could,” added Homman. “System 800 is the way of the future.”

Next year, Dickinson County voters could be asked to approve a quarter-cent sales tax for public safety, with funds earmarked for the purchase of an 800 MHz radio system for all county emergency responders, and start saving for the future. replacement of rescue trucks and rescue equipment.

Public safety radio systems (such as those used by police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel) operate in several parts of the 800 MHz band, according to the Federal Communications Commission website.

The 800 system will allow all public safety entities in Dickinson County to communicate with other state agencies. Homman said most counties in the state have already made the switch. Within this region, Saline, Marion, and Clay counties have all migrated in recent years. Geary County is in the process. Morris County has not yet done so, but is looking at ways to fund it.

“We have been looking for grants over the past two months, but there are currently very few grants that fulfill this function,” he said.

911 advisory board sets priority

The county’s 911 advisory board — which reorganized earlier this year after not meeting for some time due to COVID-19 — has made the switch to the 800 system a top priority. The council includes representatives from all of the county’s public safety agencies, including municipal and rural fire departments, law enforcement, emergency management, EMS and others.

Homman said the 911 advisory board hopes a small sales tax could be put in place, specifically for public safety, to be used for two things: one, to migrate all radios in the county to 800 over the next two next few years – rural fire, sheriff, police, city fire departments, EMS and road and bridge; and two, to help replace two rescue trucks in the future when they are due.

Dickinson County purchased two rescue trucks for the Abilene and Herington Fire Departments about 16 years ago with funds from a Homeland Security grant. The trucks last about 20-25 years, so they will need to be replaced soon at a cost of about $600,000 each.

“The agreement we have with the Abilene and Herington Fire Departments is that they provide the labor and service and we provide the trucks and equipment. Just as we updated mining equipment last year,” Homman said.

“Rather than wait until these trucks need to be replaced and say we need $600,000 times two and be stuck down the rabbit hole trying to figure it out, we are applying sales tax now. and we will have money available when the time comes. ”, explained Homman.

Commissioner Craig Chamberlin asked for a “ballpark figure” on the cost of switching to System 800.

Man and Asst. County Administrator/Budget Director Janelle Dockendorf estimates it will cost at least $3 million. This includes purchasing equipment to place on towers in the Abilene and Herington areas, costing approximately $700,000 each; and purchase 325 radios, which will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 each.

The 325 radios will equip 12 fire departments (including rural), Sheriff’s Department, Herington and Chapman Police Departments, Roads and Bridges, Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Service upgrades of Dickinson County, which already has 800 radios, Homman said.

The North Central Region Homeland Security Council purchased an 800 MHz radio for every ambulance in the region about 10 years ago and they need to be replaced.

Dickinson County’s 911 communications also have an 800 radio so they can talk to ambulances, as do emergency rooms at Abilene and Herington hospitals and all hospitals in the state, Homman said.

Besides the cost of radios and equipment, there will also be maintenance costs for both tower sites when the warranty periods end after the first year.

Although upgrading to the new radio system will be expensive, the county will no longer need to pay another company to maintain the current radio system.

“For the most part, these would all drop and we wouldn’t invest in them anymore,” Homman said, although the county’s paging system would continue to operate on the old radio system because it works well and is much cheaper. .

One of the biggest advantages of Radio System 800 is the fact that it is state maintained and offers statewide coverage.

“When Jerry (Sheriff Davis) sends a patrol car to Larned to take a prisoner, they can communicate with everyone,” Homman said. “He covers the whole state.”

The biggest advantage, of course, is the interoperability to communicate with every state public safety entity.

Estimated income

If a quarter-cent sales tax were established specifically for public safety, that fund could bring in about $600,000 a year or $3.5 million over five years, Dockendorf and Homman said.

Since most of this money would go towards purchasing the radio system, there wouldn’t be much left over for lifesaving equipment.

However, the county has set aside money as part of the annual budget process to help pay for some of the cost of the new rescue trucks and equipment, although that won’t be enough to cover the full cost.

Homman told commissioners that Saline County migrated to the 800 radio system in 2021 using money raised through a sales tax for public safety. It cost Saline County about $10 million to make the change due to the number of radios needed.

Members of the 911 Advisory Council agreed that it would be up to its members to educate county residents on the need for the new radio system and public safety equipment and why a quarter-cent sales tax is the best way to fund it, Homman said.

At least one county fire chief has already approached his city’s leaders to ask if they would support a sales tax. The leaders have indicated that they will.

“If we decide that’s the path we want to go down,” Homman added. “Otherwise it will be a factory tax increase and I’m sure nobody likes that.”

Since the subject was discussed in business session, no action was taken or planned, although if the commissioners decide to put a public safety sales tax on the ballot, it will be a point to the agenda at a future regular meeting.

If it’s too late for the November election, it could be for the August 2023 ballot.