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November 18, 2018

3/1/2018 3:36:00 PM
Radio upgrade made optional; costs trimmed

The outcry from Chisago county law enforcement and firefighters opposing a new fee schedule recently associated with emergency radios was immediate, and the county board’s response has been equally as swift.  

County Commissioners, minus Lora Walker, voted unanimously February 21 to back-off on the new radio subscriber-user fees adopted January 17, effective in 2019.  

The county will also allow local fire  and police departments to apply outside funding sources to buy radios and will not impose purchase and use of county-acquired radios. The quantity of radios, though, resulted in a big cost reduction per unit through the county.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt said Motorola has agreed to let the county return whatever number of units is deemed not needed, from the recent order.  Local firefighters’ and departments’ need to decide ASAP which radios can remain in use at department discretion.  

Messelt said, “Nothing would make me happier” than to see firefighters be successful in winning outside grants to pay their communication equipment costs.   The county may not have been successful obtaining communication grants, but fire departments have different programs available.  “It would be really exciting should they succeed.”  Messelt added.  
The county had until the end of February (yesterday) to notify Motorola of the approximate return number, so the commissioners needed to act on modifying the fee plan at the meeting last week.

The Board in January adopted increases in the radio system replacement, subscriber and usage fees that doubled  local department expenses for 2019.  Some departments, like Wyoming Fire, with 34 total radios, found the increases unacceptable.  Police were also impacted: 28 radios in North Branch, 35 in Lakes Area and 25 for Wyoming P.D.

A letter to the county commissioners (undated) asks the Board to re-establish a committee that would be charged with doing technical, operation cost analysis, would develop “reasonable charges” and even look into planned expansion of existing comm systems.

The committee would aid the County Board and be advisory in decision making, the letter said.  

The committee would be two city or township clerks, a county board member, sheriff, city chief of police and city fire chief and MICS director and county administrator.  The letter was signed by Chief of Wyoming P.D. Paul Hoppe and Zach Reed, Chisago City Fire Chief-- on behalf of the county’s fire and police chief associations.

Messelt said the public safety organizations met Feb 20. Revisions to the radio plan were discussed and agreed to,  and the committee recommendation was adopted by the County Board Feb 21.  

The commissioners in January had supported creating a reimbursement sinking fund, so users would pay into an account and the county would not be fronting the money for replacement components.  Fees designed to build a reimbursement sinking fund were eliminated for now.

The $1,290 subscriber fee goes to $630 per radio per year. Subscribers are funding about 50 percent of operations costs and the county covers the other half.

Users, who are on the system but have their own units, pay $575 annually per radio. In the past Taylors Falls Fire Department was the only entity paying this sum because everybody else was equipped with radios bought by the county.

Those who do purchase a radio through the county will be charged $890 “financing.” This includes a warranty and maintenance.

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