Commissioners Approve ARPA Funding for Communications Systems Upgrade | News


DALLAS — Polk County commissioners authorized the use of $1.2 million of its ARPA funds Jan. 12 to upgrade the county’s aging communications system.

County Emergency Manager Dean Bender said the equipment in place was built in 2003 and has been operational since 2006.

“The equipment is now past its lifespan, no longer usable, and it’s hard to get parts,” Bender explained. “We’re at the point where if the radios go out, they go out and part of the system goes offline. We have to steal from other parts to put them back together.

Polk County received approximately $17 million from the federal government in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for fiscal years 2021-22. The money was to be spent on COVID-19 related issues, which County Administrator Greg Hansen said can also be spent on upgrading the communications system.

He added that the total cost of the upgrade will be closer to $1.8 million. To bridge the gap between Bender’s request and the final tally, he will ask other localities to contribute.

“We will also ask the cities for a contribution to this. Whether we will get it or not, I don’t know. But it benefits all public safety and emergency agencies with an improved communications system,” Hansen said.

“The goal is to get everyone digital, including fire, emergency response and public safety,” Hansen added. “There is sufficient funding in ARPA dollars to pay for this project. The biggest thing holding us back was whether it qualified under ARPA. It’s done. I have no problem moving it forward, as long as the board is comfortable moving forward as one of the major projects using ARPA money.

Hansen said a project of this magnitude would have been very difficult to complete without the injection of dollars from ARPA, adding that it would likely have taken more than a decade to fund it through normal channels.

Bender agreed it was a big investment for the county.

“We would have a radio system that would last the next 15 years and that we could get parts for,” he explained. “It would also put all of our base stations on the same platform. Currently, our system has three different radios. This system makes it possible to have the whole system on the same radio station, therefore to have the flexibility to move as needed.

Commissioner Craig Pope summarized the project so he could explain it to his constituents.

“Basically, we are upgrading the platform, the base of operations and the transmission to the digital network. It does not include portable, mobile units for the jurisdictions that will use it. It will be up to them to upgrade their equipment to reach the full capability of this system,” Pope said.

Bender agreed, adding that the county would have money further down the planning pipeline, aside from this request, to also replace all of the portable radios in the sheriff’s office and the jail.

“As I speak publicly and I speak on behalf of the people who elected me, I want them to know that this is far better than anything we have done before, it is the right investment that we have to do, and they’ll be safer in every aspect going forward. These aren’t new toys. It improves the systems as a whole,” Pope said.

Board chairman Lyle Mordhorst said his main concern for this to be approved was that the county’s only technician on staff, who rigged it to keep it operational, is nearing retirement.

“The problem is if something were to happen to him, I don’t think we could find the person to come and figure out what the systems are right now and keep them moving. Whereas with an upgrade it is the latest technology, many vendors and technicians will figure it out and fix it,” Mordhorst said.

Bender estimated that it would take up to 1.5 years to implement the new system, as part of his wish list is also the construction of a ride site at the Polk County Fairgrounds & Event Center.

“I think we are making very good investments. I talk to other counties. They talk about our system. They all thought we had done a very good job for the amount of money we were making. Taxpayers can be really proud of what Polk County has done,” Bender said.


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