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June 19, 2019

6/6/2019 3:16:00 PM
Radio agreement still a no-go for North Branch Council

The North Branch City Council continued rejection of the interim emergency radio agreement with Chisago County.  The council last week was more divided than the first time the temporary agreement was turned down.  It voted 3-2 last week, with Council members Kelly Neider and Joel McPherson supportive of signing the temporary contract.  The county has been seeking signatures for a 2019-only agreement, meant to replace a five-year  emergency network accessibility and subscription agreement from 2012-2013.  The system is know as ARMER or Allied Radio Matrix of  Emergency Radios that is restricted as to talk groups and frequency accessibility,  which all came about after the 35W bridge collapse and  related communications difficulties.  Narrowbanding was ordered by the federal government after 9-11.  Chisago County built a set of new radio towers to improve signal connections and also provided area emergency responders with specially-programmed radios to become part of a new allied matrix in the state.

The contracts for radios’ replacement and the wording of a new contract for permission to be part of ARMER have been debated among county officials for months and have proven to be controversial.  

In a new twist last week, North Branch leaders were told by City Administrator Renae Fry that the 2012-2013 original contract,  allowing North Branch to use the county-issued radios on the  “airwaves” was still in effect.  There is no need to sign an interim contract that the council doesn’t support, Fry advised, because the first agreement is still in effect.  The city can’t be denied using the fire radios on the secure system, at least until the county gives what council was told is a “180 day notice.”

Council member Neider  said it doesn’t make any sense that the county is so adamant it needs an interim contract, if the old one is still in force.

Council member McPherson had concerns about Plan B.   What does North Branch do next, even if a 180-day notice is forthcoming?  Does North Branch make plans to take the county to court?  Create a North Branch radio network?  

Fry said the radios in use by the fire department are still covered by the original use agreement, because the fire department accepted old radio stock the county offered.   Council was told the vague threat that the radios “self destruct” just because Motorola no longer supports these models,  is just the county seeking leverage to get North Branch to agree to terms council does not think are in the city’s best interests.

Council member Brian Voss stated county commissioners,  “Have been given erroneous information” about the status of the original radio agreement.  He added that he felt, “...conversations are being atively avoided” when the city has reached out to discuss contract wording.

The denial of the agreement also directed city staff to keep trying to get contract wording revisions directly to the county commissioners who represent North Branch.

Commissioners whose districts contain a section of North Branch include Mike Robinson, Chris DuBose and Rick Greene.  
All three have voted for the contract as written to be presented to affected local officials.

In other matters:  the North Branch Council rezoned property from Agricultural  to RR at 36467 Forest Blvd for a lot to be split off smaller than what the Ag zoning called for. Council heard this isn’t opening the door for many small-sized lots because this parcel doesn’t have enough buildable land for multiple sites.
Also, a new liquor license was approved. The Fort, at 38873 14th Avenue which will be owned by Tiki Tims LLC.

Long discussion ensued on whether North Branch is at the stage where it can claim to be a monarch capitol.  The parks commission forwarded the issue for council to decide. The Parks Trails & Open Space group voted 2-2 on the issue.  Council agreed that the PTOS needs to develop some actual milestones for the city to achieve,  to be able to claim the title. They should review the upkeep of the designation budget-wise.  Spending might include holding a “festival” as part of the monarch effort?  What strategies will need to be promoted and what generally will be the city’s role?


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