The 800 megahertz trunked radio system from Motorola greatly improves the reception range for deputies, Sheriff Clay Whittle said during the commission meeting.
Often, Whittle said, deputies must strike a “Statue of Liberty” pose – holding their radios over the heads while talking into lapel microphones – to get reception. With the new radio system, he said deputies will get a clear signal in 98 percent of the county.
The new system will be tied into the county’s broadband network, which is under construction and will include several new radio towers. Thanks to the broadband infrastructure, Whittle said the cost for the system was considerably less.
“If we didn’t have this (broadband network), we’d probably be looking at $10 million ... to make this system come together,” he said.
To purchase the system, commissioners agreed to make an initial down payment of $3.5 million from the 911 fund balance.
Such expenditures from the 911 reserves once were illegal, but new legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in May during a Columbia County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting allows for the purchase of upgrades to emergency communications equipment.
The balance of the purchase will be paid during the next decade at a 3.19 percent interest rate.
Other county agencies also can use the system in return for sharing in the maintenance costs. For the first time, Whittle said, such agencies as the sheriff’s office, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, county Emergency and Operations and others will be able to communicate via radio.
Whittle said the radio system might be ready for use by October.