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New Kent County has chosen an option for a much-needed radio system less expensive than the cost of joining the counties of York, Gloucester and James City on their regional radio system.
New Kent, whose current radio system covers about 60 percent of the county, was originally in negotiations to join the other three localities, which would have saved the three existing partners about $80,000 total in maintenance costs per year.
It would also have cut down on upgrades, which were planned for this coming year if New Kent joined the system.
When New Kent was anticipated to join the other three localities, upgrades to the system would have started almost immediately with a one-time 42 percent reduction in costs for the three counties thanks to New Kent’s $700,000 contribution to join, plus a $400,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
The three localities, over seven years, will now have to pay a total of $36.3 million for the upgrades starting in 2019, with the biggest funding occurring in fiscal years 2019 and 2022. The upgrade is listed in York County’s capital improvements program, a 10-year plan that addresses major infrastructure projects.
New Kent County Administrator Rodney Hathaway said Wednesday the county and the Board of Supervisors kept their options open as they shopped for a new system, and Harris Corporation gave them the best deal.
“During our process of evaluating various options for a radio system, we decided based on various proposals that we’ve heard that the Harris proposal…was the best proposal for New Kent in regards to pricing, service, the total package,” Hathaway said.
The system manufactured by the Harris Corporation costs about $5.5 million. Comparatively, it would cost New Kent about $7 million to join the regional system with York, James City and Gloucester, according to Hathaway.
New Kent also found the standalone system more attractive than being reliant on other localities.
“We really felt that [the standalone system] gave New Kent more control over future upgrades or maintenance,” Hathaway said. “It really put us in the driver’s seat.”
The New Kent County Board of Supervisors voted in a work session Wednesday to put $800,000 down for the standalone system, which is being financed through Citizens & Farmers Bank. The county is borrowing a total of $4.8 million, and the supervisors have anticipated the tax rate will likely have to increase by one cent in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2019 to fully fund the project.
Ninety-five percent of the county will be covered under the new system, which Hathaway said would be use the four existing tower sites in the county and would be put in place in about 15 months.
Hathaway said surrounding localities such as Henrico County are working on upgrading their systems to allow seamless communication between jurisdictions.
“We’re excited about the project,” he said. “I believe we made the best decision for New Kent.”
For York County, Gloucester and James City County, the radio system upgrades include the replacement of batteries, microwave hardware, A/C units at the communication sites, antennas, transmission lines and mobile data servers as well as the aging microwave system that acts as the backbone of the regional radio network.
York and James City counties initially established the Regional Public Safety Radio Communications System in 2003 to improve radio coverage and communication between the two jurisdictions, offer mutual aid across the two localities and allow law enforcement officers and emergency responders to tune into frequencies outside of their jurisdictions.
Gloucester County was added to the partnership in 2011.
The cities of Williamsburg and Poquoson are tenants of the system, meaning they pay monthly user fees to use the 911 center for 911 services and to use the radio network. The user fee spares those localities from having to invest in the upgrades.