The Dodge County Board of Supervisors took steps to move forward on its project with Motorola Solutions to revamp the county’s emergency radio system.
The board voted during its Wednesday meeting to authorize the Dodge County Clerk to issue checks for three land purchases, which will accommodate three of the four radio towers that will be built as part of the project, which was approved last year.
Officials have described the $11 million project as one of the county’s largest ever financial endeavors, but also as a public safety necessity brought on by a declining quality in radio service for the Dodge County Sheriff’s office. The project will also put Dodge County on the same radio system as Douglas County and the city of Fremont, which law enforcement officials have said will help improve communication between different agencies.
Each land purchase will cost $20,000, pending Motorola’s approval of the sites. The resolution approved on Wednesday authorized immediate earnest money payments of $2,000 on each of the three land purchases. The rest of the money will be paid out at the time of closing.
The first parcel of land, being sold by Vernon and Becky Vodvarka, will be located near Dodge (the North half of the Northwest quarter of Section 21, in Township 20, Range five). The second, sold by the Shirley VonSeggren Trust, will be located near Uehling (the western half of the southwest corner in section 12, township 20, range 7). And the third, sold by Kurt and Melissa Dunker, is near North Bend (Section 16, township 18, range 6).
“Outside of these three, we have one more,” said Dodge County Board Chairman Bob Missel. “It’s been a little slower to lock that one in, and the reason is there’s about six property owners, six members of this trust that have to all sign on.”
He added that he hopes that work will start this upcoming construction season.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting the county announced that they will be assembling a committee to explore the possibility of establishing a public defender’s office to represent indigent defendants who are going through the court system.
Currently, the county appoints private attorneys in the community to represent clients facing criminal charges who cannot afford their own legal representation. However, as the Tribune reported in March, District Court Judge Geoffrey Hall notified the board that he’d be increasing the hourly rate for those private attorneys to $95 for both felony and misdemeanor cases. That would put Dodge County at the same rate as other counties in northeast Nebraska, officials say.
“As we talked through this, the reality is we need to meet the market,” Missel said on Wednesday.
That could add an additional quarter million dollars in attorney expenses that are already high. And with the decision not being finalized until the next budget cycle, Missel said the board decided to use the time to explore the possibility of a public defender.
“This is a conversation that we’ve had in the past,” Missel said. “The board years ago actually moved towards doing it and then decided not to after some debate.”
A public defender is a county employee who is in charge of representing indigent clients. The public defender system is used in other counties in Nebraska, including Butler, Colfax, Douglas and Saunders.
The Dodge County committee would look at the different ways that a public defender could be implemented. Models include using a contracted attorney or creating a new elected official akin to the Dodge County Attorney.
“We’d like to look at surrounding counties that are already using public defenders, and how that process works,” Missel said.
The committee will consist of Missel, Supervisors Lon Strand and Greg Beam, as well as Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass.