Debate Heats Up Over Emergency Radio System

Mahaska County Courthouse

Mahaska County Courthouse

by Allison McGuire

Tension over selecting and funding a new radio communications system for emergency personnel in Mahaska County continued at the regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Monday, February 5th. Adding another legal opinion into the question of who will own the new radio system was attorney Daniel Gonnerman. He was there to answer questions posed by members of the Board of Supervisors. “First of all, most of the questions focused on whether or not the county is required to fund the infrastructure requests of the EMA board and also how the 28E agreement between the EMA Board and the 911 service board interact,” said Gonnerman, who also is representing the county in its fight against the 28E agreement over the regional airport. “Basically, I don’t believe the board [of supervisors] is under an obligation to fund the infrastructure requests from either of those boards.” He later said, “It is a discretionary decision by the Board of Supervisors and the respective cities on what they want to invest as far as infrastructure.”

Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission, or the EMC, has managed E911 dispatchers and equipment since 2015. The EMC is made up of elected officials from each city within the county, including a representative from the board of supervisors, Mark Groenendyk, and the Mahaska County Sheriff, Russ Van Renterghem. It is the governing body of the EMA, or Emergency Management Agency.

According to a letter prepared earlier in the process by their lawyer, Carlton Salmons, the EMC’s budget is “based solely on continuing receipt of 911 surcharge funding from the Service Commission,” which he categorized as “vastly insufficient to purchase and operate any newly designed and installed radio system.” In the same letter, Salmons stated, “It is no secret the radio system used presently by EMC in Mahaska County is old, decrepit, non-functioning for one or more reasons and has become obsolete and unrepairable.”

The FCC’s move to narrowband radio frequencies in 2013, which effectively cut the communication highway in half, has given emergency responders across the country issues in communicating with each other and their communication centers.

The purpose of the Mahaska County Communication Committee, which is made up of elected officials, including Van Renterghem and Groenendyk, and users of the current emergency communications system, including Jamey Robinson of Mahaska County EMA/911, has been to “provide a recommendation on a sustainable interoperable communications infrastructure” to the Board of Supervisors and the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission. The committee’s end goal is to “develop, and implement, an interoperable, countywide communication system that will serve the emergency responders, county users, and citizens of Mahaska County.”

Since the project began, Groenendyk has raised concerns about the project’s funding, who owns the current communications infrastructure, and whose responsibility it is to provide such services. In the previously referenced letter, EMC attorney Salmons stated Iowa Code Section 29C.17(1) makes the EMC Commission the “fiscal authority” over the “local emergency management fund.”

Carlton Salmons resigned this week after a Mahaska County official raised concerns that a conflict of interest could arise because Salmons also represents Mahaska County’s insurance provider.

The work of the committee has included an initial Request for Proposal that cost $40,000 to put together with the help of the consultant firm Elert & Associates, paid for by the Board of Supervisors. At the February 5th meeting, Groenendyk received permission from the other supervisors to hire another radio consultant, Rey Freeman, which will cost $7500. The EMA had already contracted Jeff Stone from Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman PLC to review the RFP prepared with Elert & Associates.

Currently, any motion on the RFP is at a halt as the EMC finds new legal representation.

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Posted by on Feb 7 2018. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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