Radio System Discussion Waiting On Answer From Supervisors

Mahaska County Supervisor and Mahaska County Emergency Vice-Chair Mark Groenendyk was visibly angry after being accidentally left off the email chain notifying board members of the upcoming meeting.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – For nearly three years, emergency personnel from around the county have been talking about the troubles they are facing in communicating not only with each other during emergency situations, but with the communications center itself.

Those discussions heated up when the Mahaska County Secondary Roads Engineer spoke about the difficulties they were facing in communicating with their staff on the road.

Narrowbanding of radio frequencies by the FCC has forced communities out of their traditional radio systems and into the new 700 to 800 MHz radio systems. Narrowbanding effectively cut the communication highway in half. Formerly, a radio frequency would run on bandwidths of 25 kHz, but with narrowbanding, that highway is now just 12.5 kHz.

This move to narrowband took full effect in January of 2013.

Shortly after that time, emergency responders not only in Mahaska County but around the state and nation began to have issues communicating, even during routine traffic stop situations. Once emergency personnel enter a structure, their ability to maintain contact becomes even more difficult.

In the FCC Narrowbanding Booklet provided to emergency responders, it states, “Interference may occur. Even prior to January 1, 2013, your operations on wideband (25 kHz) equipment may become increasingly subject to interference from new adjacent-channel narrowband systems that are being implemented by other licensees in the vicinity of your operating area.”

For the July meeting of the Mahaska County Emergency Management Commission, the email with the agenda and documents was sent out to the board members, and members of the media got the agenda in their inbox.

A glitch prevented some members from receiving that email, one of which was Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

At this month’s meeting, Walling said the answer or conversation about bonding from the supervisors meeting would help the group better develop financing for the project.

The Commission was anxious to hear Groenendyk’s answer about the Mahaska County Supervisors decision on bonding.

Walling expressed concerns that Groenendyk wasn’t there to add the county’s perspection to the financing portion of the project.

“We’ve got to get their answer,” said Walling. “This is the county. We’re all the county. Mark should have been here. The supervisors are going to have to bond this, or it’s going to fail. We’ve got to get their answer.”

In June’s meeting, Oskaloosa City Council member Tom Walling had asked Groenendyk, “What is your [Mahaska County] bonding [capacity]?”

Groenendyk responded, “60 [million]. The higher the bond, the higher the interest.”

“All we need is 6 Mark,” said Walling.

“We’ve got other stuff too,” said Groenendyk.

“Are you willing to get it on your [Mahaska County Supervisors] agenda to talk about the bonding?” asked Walling of Groenendyk.

“Yeah, I can do that,” Groenendyk had replied.

Groenendyk arrived at the July meeting visibly upset that he wasn’t notified of the meeting. “I never received an email confirming our meeting tonight, so hopefully there’s a good reason.”

“The only discussion we’ve had with EMA and us, so far, is the director and the chair came to a meeting and said the county can own it. I’m assuming there’s going to be a 28E someplace, where the EMA is just going to rent it or lease it [emergency radio system],” said Groenendyk.

Mahaska County Emergency Management Attorney Carl Salmons, during their previous [June] meeting, outlined how the Emergency Management/911 board are responsible for a new radio system and said that it’s out of the jurisdiction of the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors.

“That issue’s been quashed by Carl,” said Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem. “That’s why Carl is sitting here today, because that issue has been brought up.”

“Hasn’t been brought back to the supervisors,” said Groenendyk.

“You’re the one that brought it up, and that’s why we contacted Carl,” explained Van Renterghem. “That’s why he came here last time, and he pointed out we were a separate municipality, and that it cannot be owned by the board of supervisors because it’s our responsibility.”

Groenendyk responded, “Then we need to go back to the board of supervisors, cause the understanding from the May 22 meeting was, the forty-thousand dollars for the study and fifteen-thousand for the grant was the supervisors was going to have the say in what we buy and take care of owning it and paying for it.”

“It was my understanding, in talking with two other members of the board of supervisors, is that you guys expect your money back,” said Van Renterghem.

“It hasn’t been in a public meeting, so I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Groenendyk. “That’s why that forty-thousand dollars was given [supervisor control].”

“Do you guys want your money back?” asked Van Renterghem.

“Well I assume, because that’s what we talked about in the board meeting. It’s why we gave forty thousand dollars,” said Groenendyk. “It wasn’t a gift.”

“Mark, since this last meeting here, did the three of you [supervisor’s] talk about the interest in bonding it?” Asked Walling.

Groenendyk shook his head no.

“You didn’t?” commented Walling. “I thought you were going to.”

“The last the supervisors all knew, the supervisors were going to have to figure what we are going to buy, bond it and take care of it,” said Groenendyk. “Now, if there’s something different?”

Groenendyk said there would need to be a new presentation to the board of supervisors. “Did you guys know all that?”

“I thought I knew what the sheriff said,” said Walling. “That we are past that.”

Groenendyk said that the May 22nd meeting was outlined in emails and that Walling was a part of those emails.

“Yeah but the last meeting [June] here, we talked about that you would go find out from the supervisors if they had an appetite for bonding it [radio system]. Maybe not paying for it, but bonding for it,” said Walling.

“You personally asked me to do,” said Groenendyk. “The commission didn’t say anything to finalize me to do it.”

“Can you?” asked University Park Mayor George Toubekis of Groenendyk.

“Well I think the chair needs to come before the board and ask us,” said Groenendyk.

Van Renterghem asked Groenendyk if he would put the commission and himself on the next supervisors agenda for August 7th.

Salmons said that the cost to join either the state radio system or one owned by EMA would be roughly the same, which is estimated to be between 4 to 6 million dollars.

Since Emergency Management has the ability to levy taxes, the board asked its fellow member Mark Groenendyk to approach the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors about being the bonding capacity for the new system. The taxes generated by EMA would then pay off the bonds to the county. Groenendyk is also a member of the EMA Commission.

“It’s to the advantage of all, to get a lesser interest rate through bonding than it is for us to try and finance 4.5 to 6 million dollars on our own nickel,” said Salmons.

Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem said emergency responders in the county are living on borrowed time when it comes to the possibility that someone will die or be seriously hurt, be it a citizen in need or a first responder, because the current communication system has failed.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk has been combative with fellow commission members about the current radio system and that it has not been thoroughly checked for potential fail points. 911 Administrator Jamey Robinson explained that the system has been thoroughly tested and is working within the parameters specified in the original design.

Groenendyk then said Elert, the firm helping EMA put together the RFP for the new radio system, said there could be water in the cables or other defects that could be causing the trouble.

Members of the board informed Groenendyk that was not the case for Mahaska County, they had only been giving examples of other locations they had worked with.

Groenendyk continued to push to have the state of Iowa’s communication team come and inspect the tower. Objections to that proposal were laid out because they, Iowa’s communication team, would be a competing bidder for the new radio system.

Groenendyk has been pushing for the county to join the state radio system and has been communicating, outside the commission, with the State of Iowa, about their system.

The state system is maintained by Motorola, who would greatly benefit from Mahaska County’s entrance into their system, and would also, ultimately, help the state build out their system.

If Mahaska County was to pay for the needed equipment to join the state system, that system would then be under the control of the state of Iowa, and not local emergency personnel.

Groendyk had the state come to a board of supervisors meeting to present their radio system, but never invited other providers the same opportunity.

 

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Posted by on Jul 30 2017. 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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