Commissioners approve $2.5 million, 10-year lease for responder radios and 911 components

Upgrades to 911 system will take 18 more months

by Kate Shunney

A several-month scramble to prepare for upgrades to Morgan County’s aging and glitch-prone 911 center reached a major milestone on Wednesday, December 4 with the approval of a $2.5 million contract with Motorola Solutions, Inc.

That contract is a 10-year lease agreement between the county and Motorola for three major components of a new 911 center plus 157 new portable radios for first responders.

Under the contract, the county will get:

  • A computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for $544,000,
  • A call-taking system for the 911 center for $483,000,
  • Five dispatch consoles for $675,000
  • 157 portable radios, 74 mobile radio units and two radio control stations for $1.2 million.

Commission President Joel Tuttle said the county received a $414,570 discount for bundling all of the radios and equipment into one lease. Commissioners agreed to put down $800,000 toward the lease costs up front. The county will pay a 2.93% lease rate, said Tuttle.

Under the agreement, Morgan County will make a yearly payment of $198,871 for 10 years. Motorola will do an “equipment refresh” mid-way through the lease to keep all of the components updated.

Tuttle said the yearly lease payment would come from the county’s 911 landline fee and the state 911 fee on cell phones. Tuttle estimated revenue from those two fees would increase by $230,000 annually. Both fees were increased this year.

The $800,000 down-payment on the lease would come from the county’s carryover from the last fiscal year. Commissioners said they have been saving for upgrades to the 911 center.

Commissioner Ken Reed said that money is available because the county hadn’t been making needed upgrades to 911 in recent years.

Despite a sense of urgency by county officials and staff to nail down contracts for new equipment and move the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department in order to relocate the 911 center to the courthouse annex, officials said Wednesday the updated center won’t be operational for 18 more months.

Members of a 911 center taskforce and County Administrator Stefanie Allemong had previously said their target was to move the 911 center in May 2020.

The county spent more than $200,000 this summer and fall to renovate and relocate to a new Morgan County Sheriff’s Department to make room for a new 911 center.

Morgan County Courthouse

Data move will delay center

During bid openings for new 911 equipment last month, county officials learned a new CAD system would not be ready for use for more than a year, based on timelines provided by CAD vendors.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Sean Forney and Allemong said they didn’t know until three weeks ago that the preparation of the CAD would take that long.

Another member of the taskforce said a new CAD system took three years to implement in Frederick County, Va.

Forney said the amount of data to be loaded into the CAD is to blame. That data includes all county road names, addresses and box assignments for area responders.

Officials said it’s not possible to move into a new 911 center space and use the current CAD system until the new one is ready.

“It would be like trying to move a wet cardboard box,” said Deputy 911 Director Sarah Hogbin.

Officials fear the CAD system would simply stop working if it was moved.

At one point earlier this year, only one of three CAD stations at the 911 center worked properly. Phone lines to 911 have also gone down several times this year.

“We have 18 months on a system that should have been replaced seven or eight years ago,” said Commissioner Forney.

Allemong said she is making plans to have 911 center staff train at the Jefferson County 911 center while waiting for upgrades here. If Morgan County’s dispatch system fails, emergency calls can be routed to Jefferson County’s center and answered by Morgan County 911 staff, said Allemong.

Based on current estimates, an upgraded Morgan County 911 center would be operational in May of 2021.