Find an answer for emergency radio upgrade

THERE MAY BE DISAGREEMENT over what the role of local government should be, but one role everyone should agree on is protecting the lives and property of its citizens.

Everyone should also agree that that service should be provided at the best possible level.

That’s what Sheboygan County is attempting to do with its plan to upgrade the emergency radio system countywide over the next several years.

Unfortunately, that is not an inexpensive proposition.

The current emergency radio system and equipment – utilized by police and fire departments, ambulance services, first responders and other personnel throughout the county - is more than a dozen years old. Anyone who deals with technology knows that a dozen years is more than a lifetime – more like several lifetimes – for such equipment. Indeed, the supplier Motorola has already informed the county it will no longer repair or upgrade the equipment or provide parts or replacements.

We certainly don’t want our lives, our safety and our property relying on outdated, antiquated equipment that can’t be fixed or replaced if it’s broken.

It means that the system and equipment need to be replaced. The total cost will run between $13 million and 14 million – no small piece of change.

The county has already committed to paying the full cost of the equipment and software to support the emergency radios – the so-called ‘backbone’ of the system – at a cost of $9.2 million.

In addition, the county will be paying another $2 million to $2.2 million for radios for its personnel, chiefly in the Sheriff’s Department.

That leaves about $2.2 million to replace the radios needed by emergency and other personnel in the county’s cities, villages and towns.

The last time the county upgraded the radio system, it picked up the entire cost, including all the radios. But financial situations have changed in the intervening years and money is tight for the county.

Unfortunately, the same is true for the cities, towns and villages in the county. And that’s the sticking point.

At a cost in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000 apiece, that can be a challenging investment for many of the smaller communities that support fire departments, first responders and ambulance services – and for larger communities as well.

County officials have made an informal offer to pay half the cost for localities, but even that hasn’t been endorsed by the County Board or any of its committees.

It certainly would be better than local units of government having to pick up the entire cost themselves.

But there might be other alternatives that could be negotiated. And the county has indicated that it might be willing to utilize its reserve funds to help local governments finance the cost of the radios at little or no interest, which could make the expenditure a little easier to swallow.

Whatever the final answer might be, it must be reached.

The citizens of every city, village and town in the county deserve the best possible communication among those who protect them – not cell phones, land lines, walkie-talkies or anything less.

At issue:
Emergency radio replacement
Bottom line:
Make it happen

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