Franklin County (Maine) Commissioners OK More Money for Communications
FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to add $73,200 to the communications budget to improve emergency radio communications in the county.
It brought the proposed communications budget up to $915,480.
The proposed $5.8 million spending package for 2015-16 includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for nonunion employees. Some union employees received more than a 3 percent increase in previously negotiated contracts.
Prior to adding the $73,200, the entire budget was $100,000 over the LD 1 tax cap for the county. Commissioners are looking for ways to reduce the entire budget to get it within the cap. After commissioners finalize their spending plan, it will move to the county Budget Advisory Committee for review. Several members of the panel were in attendance Wednesday.
Commissioners decided to take the proposed nonunion raises and deal with them as a total and made a decision on what the proposed increase in pay will be. So each budget, including the communications budget, is expected to change.
The total amount for the first step for communications improvements is $145,000. After factoring in $62,000 from a 2014 Homeland Security grant that an application will be submitted for and $27,000 in tax-increment financing funds, it brings the amount needed to $73,200.
It is expected that it will take four to five years to build a solid communications infrastructure throughout the county, communications Director Stan Wheeler said.
The entire cost to do all improvements is estimated at $488,000, including going to a radio-over-Internet protocol system throughout the county that would run on fiber-optic cable. The estimate does not factor in any possible increases to the cost of equipment in future years.
Wheeler said in his opinion, it is the county’s responsibility to get emergency communications signals to every town in Franklin County. The county would cover the annual Internet costs and the towns would be responsible for radio base systems they have in place.
Towns will not have to pay to hook into the radio-over-Internet protocol system, he said.
“My budget request today is not intended to be a band-aid to fix the entire problem. It is a first step,” Wheeler said.
Wilton police Chief Heidi Wilcox told commissioners Tuesday that the Dispatch Advisory Board met with Wheeler several times to go over his proposal and they support it.
The county had a study done of the system and several deficiencies were found. Recommendations have been made to fix them.
“It is a problem for everyone in the county,” Wilcox, a member of the board, said Tuesday. “We are not doing our job to get communications out there. These are basic communication needs.”
Dispatch Advisory Board member Lee Ireland said every resident in the county deserves to know when they reach out to a fire department or police department that they will come, she had said. She also said the proposal for next year’s budget has been cut down to bare essentials.
The project covers upgrading the 10-year console at the dispatch center and upgrading the Mosher Hill site by moving equipment to a nearby tower serving emergency medical services. It also covers putting in radio-over-Internet protocol systems in fire stations in Phillips, Strong and Weld.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the Sheriff’s Office budget of $1.59 million. Commission Chairman Gary McGrane of Jay opposed it. He wanted to eliminate $90,000 for three new cruisers. The cruisers are replaced on a rotating basis.
Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. stood behind his budget. He said at of the discussions that the only area that could possibly be cut would be the vehicle line.