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McKENZIE (October 2) — In the September city council meeting, members of the board were informed by Police Chief Craig Moates of his department and the fire department’s continued …
McKENZIE (October 2) — In the September city council meeting, members of the board were informed by Police Chief Craig Moates of his department and the fire department’s continued problems with their digital radio system. On Wednesday, city officials and first responders sat down in an open door meeting with Carroll County officials to work on a resolution for the digital communications issue.
It was noted both the police and fire department are unable to stay in constant communication in town along with signal failure once an officer or firefighter enters a building. The Carroll County Emergency 911 Board provided the radios to each municipality in the county. The digital radios were accepted in good faith, but as time has progressed the radio quality has not improved as the digital system has slowly and ineffectively been built out.
Worried about the safety of their first responders, the City of McKenzie requested a meeting with Carroll County Mayor Joseph Butler, Carroll County E911 Director Kristy Meggs and Carroll County Fire Department Chief Terry Bradshaw.
McKenzie officials in attendance were Mayor Jill Holland, Councilpersons Charles Pruneau, Jason R. Martin, Brian Winston and Debbie Riley along with City Clerk Jennifer Waldrup. Questions were asked as to why the radios are not working properly, and what steps the county is taking to resolve the problem.
According to Chief Bradshaw, the limited signal comes two fold. The first is the necessary software update on all equipment, which should have already been supplied by B&E Electronics; the vendor of the radio equipment. The second and most likely the culprit is McKenzie’s lack of a digital antenna and signal repeater.
In the original agreement, an antenna with a repeater was to be installed in McKenzie. With the water tower near city hall under repair at the time, Carroll County was not able to install the antenna. Instead of waiting for repairs to be completed, the county constructed a tower on property it owned in Hico. With the site further removed from the city limits and not on high enough elevation, McKenzie is unable to receive the necessary signal strength to make the radios work properly.
Since the promised antenna and repeater are installed on the Hico tower, the removal would take the signal away from responders in that geographic area. To place an antenna with a repeater in McKenzie, the estimated cost is $12,000 along with licensure from the FCC.
Over one million dollars was spent in the purchase of radios for county and municipals emergency services and necessary equipment by the county. McKenzie’s digital radios have never worked properly and the old antiquated analogy radios are being forced out of retirement as a fail safe. The Town of Huntingdon has not reported issues with the new radio system. The reason being, the necessary antenna was installed in the proper vicinity, and the town serves as the county and is centrally located.
After an hour of back-and-forths, it became increasingly apparent Carroll County had little interest bearing financial responsibility to provide the necessary improvements. Mayor Butler stated the county has plans to build out the digital signal for the outlying areas of Westport, Lavinia and Vale. This buildout has a three-to-four year timespan. At the conclusion of the buildout, it would be possible to focus on areas of improvement.
When asked by Councilman Pruneau why the county was not trying to correct what was already in place. Butler’s response was that the areas of Westport, Lavinia and Vale need support now rather than later. The additional question was asked how come the county did not provide McKenzie with an antenna to fix the signal, the mayor simply passed blame on the budget.
If McKenzie’s needs were to be met, city officials have to bring the $12,000 request before the county’s budget community; comprised of Johnny Blount (Westport), Manuel Crossno (Huntingdon), Willie Huffman (McKenzie), Darrell Ridgley (Cedar Grove) and Brian Winston (McKenzie). Already burdened by a deficit budget, it would be difficult for those members to provide funds to alleviate the burden for McKenzie.
Director Meggs, who remained silent for most of the meeting, stated that other areas had built out their signal without aid for the county. She did not elaborate which areas did so, and she did not volunteer any help from Carroll County Emergency 911.
Chief Bradshaw said he had started the paperwork for additional licenses for needed antennas which would include McKenzie’s if they were to purchase an antenna. He also offered assistance with the software updates since cables from B&E Electronics were on backorder.
McKenzie Fire Chief Brian Tucker informed officials in the meeting that more than once he has had to go to the tower located at Hico to reset the system. The last time he arrived at the tower, the access code had been changed by B&E Electronics. Tucker asked B&E Electronics for the code, and they were not forthcoming with the information. The lack of cooperation kept McKenzie radios offline until someone with the code arrived to the tower to help with the reset.
As of Monday, October 7, following assistance from B&E Equipment, the City of McKenzie’s police department has updated the hand-held radios software and has begun working on the vehicle radios. According to McKenzie’s Lieutenant Ryan White, it will take about a week before the department will be able to note any change in the quality.