Groenendyk Continues To Wrestle With EMA Commission

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission met on January 10, 2018, to further discuss what a new radio system for emergency personnel may be like.

Lake Keomah representative Eric Dursky asked for Motorola representatives be allowed to present to the commission.

The group was on hand to advocate for and educate the commission on their communications system, which is one of two major competing systems in the state. The other system is operated by Racom.

Motorola operates the ISICS system, while Raycom’s designed the SARA system. The Mahaska County Emergency Management Board has tasked Elert & Associates with building the needed specifications for a new system. Motorola and Raycom, along with any other interested vendors, will then bid to build that new radio system.

The commission also heard from Dallas County about their recent radio updates. The county spent over 5 million dollars on it’s upgrades to their radio system with a public bond initiative.

The county has three towers to handle the traffic generated by the public safety and public service entities in the county. The cost to Motorola to maintain the system is 1.3 million dollars over ten years.

The RFP or Request For Proposal has been completed by Elert & Associates and then moved to the EMA Commission from the Communications Committee, where it will be reviewed by attorney Jeff Stone from Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman PLC.

The commission then considered the Elert Contract and Phase 3 of the consultant involvement in the design of a radio system for Mahaska County.

The commission then decided to wait until the February meeting to decide on the direction for the next step with Elert.

The commission then reviewed a letter from the Iowa Attorney General in regards to how emergency management commission can fund itself. Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk questioned the commission’s ability to levy under the threat of legal action.

The attorney generals office confirmed that EMA can levy for those funds, but cannot issue bonds. Those bonds could be issued by either the county or a city, and fall under Iowa Code 331.441(2)(b)(17) as essential county purpose for peace officers.

Mahaska County Emergency Management currently levies $1.00 for $1000 on taxable valuation. The increase to the levy would be an additional .27 cents to generate funds for the radio system, for a total of $1.27 per $1000 of valuation.

A question was posed by one of the cities of Jamey Robinson, EMA Director for Mahaska County as to the size of fire districts.

Robinson presented documentation that indicated Oskaloosa Fire Covers 139 square miles in Mahaska County, while Oskaloosa is 8 square miles of that coverage area.

New Sharon Fire covers 134 square miles of total fire district coverage, while the city itself is less than a square mile.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk questioned Robinson about ownership and control and believes that the county still owns the equipment and that with the current 911 board didn’t have the authority.

New Sharon Mayor Dustin Hite questioned Groenendyk “Do you not want us to build the system?”

“I’m missing your point, Mark,” asked Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem.

“I’ve been talking with Jim Blomgren about this more too,” said Groenendyk. “At the time we did not realize the county owned the infrastructure. Since then, we have. We’ve done that. Even the ground underneath the towers transferred hands twice and has remained in the county ownership.”

“Mark, are you pointing that out as a technicality that we need to clean that up?” Asked Oskaloosa City Council member Tom Walling. “Or are you saying something I don’t quite understand why we wouldn’t do this project because of that?”

“No, I just think it needs to be out in the open now because this stuff is just learning this week, last ten days,” said Groenendyk.

“So you’re talking about cleaning it up?” Asked Walling of Groenendyk.

“Something needs to be cleaned up,” said Groenendyk. “It either needs to be transferred, or the supervisors need to own it. One or the other.”

“I’m just saying currently the board of supervisors own it,” added Groenendyk of the current tower. “See, 911 has never owned that.”

“But it’s antiquated. It’s old,” said University Park Mayor George Toubekis to Groenendyk in regards to the tower.

“How does it affect this project Mark is what some of us are asking,” said Van Renterghem.

Groenendyk then continued to question the original 28E agreement between the 911 Board and Emergency Management Commission and the authority to build the infrastructure.

EMA Attorney Carl Salmons rebuffed Groenendyk’s assertions that Groenendyk was making that the county continues to own the 911 equipment. Salmons asserted that the county only owns the tower located near William Penn University.

Groenendyk agreed.

“Fine, you own the tower,” said Salmons. “If the tower needs to be replaced, what do you own?”

“The county owns the towers, the equipment, everything,” Groenendyk then remarked.

“You guys can have the antenna,” said Hite towards Grownendyk. “We’ll give it to you.”

After consulting others, Groenendyk said that “nobody really has the authority to build it [radio system]. “The supervisors have the responsibility for the proper care and responsibility of protection of their county and their citizens.”

Van Renterghem then asked Groenendyk “You are the representative of the board of supervisors. Are you guys wanting to own the system?”

“I think we need to talk about that Tuesday,” replied Groenendyk.

Tom Walling said that the goal is to have emergency personnel be able to “key their mic” they should be able to talk. “That’s the whole goal, and this commission has the responsibility to make Mahaska County safe. Are you guys on board with that thought? Asked Walling of Groenendyk.

“Supervisors, we’re responsible, for the Sheriff’s and the Deputies safety,” said Groenendyk.

Hite then challenged Groenendyk to the point that Groenendyk doesn’t believe that the funding for the radio system is fair, referencing the comments by Groenendyk that he believes the funding should be on a per-capita basis.

“The problem with doing it per-capita, firefighters don’t just respond to houses. They respond to empty cornfield fires. Police respond to down in the hallars,” said Hite.

“Some of my fire department’s biggest responsibilities are agricultural things, including these hog buildings. Those are a big liability,” said Hite. “They’re just commercial buildings that wouldn’t be in that per-capita share.”

“For my city’s standpoint, a majority of the commercial places are outside of the city limits,” added Hite, who said he believes that the current form of funding is the problem for Groenendyk. “I think the supervisors are not happy with the way this is funded.”

Van Renterghem questioned Groenendyk about if he felt as though funding wasn’t equitable.

“That’s fair, that’s correct,” said Groenendyk.

Hite said that by doing the levy versus per-capita “captures the fact that we don’t just answer calls to homes. If you do a per-capita, essentially you’re basing theirs purely on who’s living in your area without regard to the commercial buildings that are there. The agricultural buildings that are there. The industrial buildings that are there, that we do still have a duty to respond to, to take care of emergencies. All of that stuff.”

The EMA Commission approved the publication of the proposed budget for EMA. Robinson said that not including legal fees or the radio system, the increase in the budget is less than 1 percent.

A public hearing for the budget is set for February 8, 2018, at 7 pm in the emergency operations center at the Mahaska County Law Center.

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