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Sullivan to upgrade emergency radio system; $11-million price tag for towers, frequencies

Fallsburg police chief Simmie Williams was one of dozens of law enforcement officials on hand to support the building of a new emergency communications system in Sullivan County.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
February 13, 2013

Legislators have not yet voted, but it seems likely that they will move forward with a plan to build nine new emergency communications towers and purchase new frequencies to aid in the communication among emergency responders.

At a meeting at the government center on February 7, Cora Edwards, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the new system is needed for interoperability, which means that all emergency responders, police, firefighters, ambulance personnel and others will be able to speak with each other on the same frequency.

In addressing the need for emergency responders to be able to communicate this way, several speakers mentioned the shooting and killing of four firefighters in Monroe County on December 24, 2012. The firefighters responded to a fire and were ambushed by a gunman, and were unable to communicate with police officers in the area.

Fallsburg police chief Simmie Williams said as the situation exists now, to communicate with other emergency responders, police must go through 911, which during major events is overwhelmed with calls. If police are able to communicate directly with others involved in the situation, it will be safer for everyone involved.

The new system will also provide better emergency coverage in the county, especially in places where coverage is now problematic, such as the river corridor.

Alex Rau, the county’s E-911 coordinator, said that construction is planned for 2014 and 2015. The county has received a $1.2-million grant to help pay for the system and another $800,000 in grant funding may be coming. Rau said that as the project advances he expects there will be other grants available to help pay for the system.

Still, a draft resolution on which legislators will be voting on February 21 regarding the funding of the project calls for bonding $9.5 million. Edwards said this bonding would not result in any increase in the property tax levy because the bonding will occur only as existing county debt is retired.

County treasurer Ira Cohen said that if the legislature decides to move forward with the project, it will mean that “future projects and future borrowing will be curtailed because you’re going to prioritize this project.”

Projects that may require financing in the future include the proposed new county jail, which, since the recession in 2008, the state has not pressured the county to move forward on, but at some point the matter will come to the fore again.

Also, maintenance on county roads and bridges has been deferred and might require bonding in the future.