The Dodge County Board of Supervisors tentatively approved on Wednesday an $11 million agreement with Motorola to establish a new radio system for the county’s emergency responders — what Board Chairman Bob Missel described as the “biggest financial piece that I’ve ever engaged with.”
The project would upgrade the county’s radio system for fire and public safety entities to the 700/800 MHz ORION radio system, bringing it to the same system used by the City of Fremont, which upgraded in 2016.
The vote follows up on the board’s July 3 resolution that stated its intent to finalize an agreement with Motorola, and it technically authorizes Missel to sign the agreement on July 27. Before then, the county must review a lease agreement outlining the financing for the project for the next 10 years. Wednesday’s vote, solidifies the board’s intent to move forward with Motorola, outlines the pricing for the project and “locks in” certain incentives and discounts that Motorola has promised, “but it doesn’t sign off on the finance piece,” Missel said.
Five of seven Supervisors voted in favor of the project. Supervisor Rob George passed on voting, and Supervisor James Vaughan abstained because his company, Valmont Industries, could reasonably place a bid to do work associated with the project.
According to the agreement approved on Wednesday, developing the infrastructure for the project will cost $8,157,282.49. That includes the construction of four 330-foot radio towers around the county, which will cost $760,965 each. Up to $1,520,084 in additional cost will be paid out by more than a dozen entities throughout the county who choose to upgrade their radio systems, such as rural fire departments in Winslow, Snyder and others.
Missel said the county will likely create an interlocal agreement with each of those entities which would allow the county to put out the money up front and be paid back over time.
There are also discount incentives that the county and all of the entities involved will receive if the final agreement is signed by July 27. All told, developing the infrastructure with those discounts will cost the county and all of those entities a total of $8,878,795. Additional costs for services and maintenance over the next 10 years will bring the total cost up to $11,073,831.82
The entities who are listed in the agreement are not, at this point, committed to upgrading their respective radio systems and may still opt out without consequence. That point was strongly pushed by Supervisor Lon Strand, who has expressed concerns that rural fire departments — with their own taxing entities and boards — have not received enough information about the upgrade and may ultimately choose to keep their current radio systems.
“I fully support all parts of it, but I really feel like we’ve been bullied and pushed down this road way faster than we ever wanted to go,” Strand said. “I’m going to support this, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I like the project, but not Motorola.”
Motorola representatives at the meeting ultimately agreed to give entities a 12-month grace period to decide whether to opt in or out of the radio system on the current prices — an agreement that ultimately satisfied board members, with Strand calling it a “good faith effort.”
The County has been working on updating its public safety radio system with Motorola since last year, which officials say is outdated, citing poor and declining coverage in certain areas. Additionally, since Fremont has updated its radio system, communication between Fremont’s public safety entities and the county’s entities has been somewhat more complicated, officials say, since the two jurisdictions are using different systems.
“The sheriff’s department is the biggest user on this radio system, and I can tell you right now, and I think anybody that uses the system — dispatch, the sheriff’s office — I’m glad to see this proposal is finally coming to an agreement,” said Dodge County Sheriff Steve Hespen at the meeting. “Every week, if not more, I have complaints on our radio system. I’ve got 20 deputies out there that have a failing system and their safety is of the essence — it’s in jeopardy right now because of our system.”
Rey Freeman of RFCC, LCC, has been advising the county on this since Motorola’s first proposal’s price, which exceeded $10 million, shocked the board.
“As we got into it, we realized that that was the reality of what it cost,” Missel said. “And we looked at other counties in the Midwest, and Rey Freeman brought in examples of other counties that had done this and in fact that is what it costs.”
Freeman ultimately was able to help reduce the the cost of the towers by around $800,000, in part by negotiating with Motorola to build shorter towers.
In other news from Wednesday’s board meeting:
*The board approved a request by Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass to hire a sixth attorney to help with a growing caseload that Glass believes will only increase as the community’s population grows.
*The board approved an application from the Dodge County Agricultural Society for Fremont and Dodge County CVB Visitor Improvement funds for $50,000 for campground improvements in Scribner.