PI board to examine radio communication issues

ROGERS CITY – The Presque Isle County Sheriff Department has coverage issues with its radios, and county commissioners heard from a radio company about a possible solution on Friday.

Tele-Rad President Mark Kooyers summed up the problem at commissioners meeting, and talked about using a statewide radio network as a way around it. The county’s current radio system has one transmitter and receiver for law enforcement, plus two additional transmitters for fire departments, Kooyers said.

A recent Federal Communications Commission mandate forced all VHF and UHF radio users to use a more narrow slice of radio bandwidth. By conforming with the mandate, the county lost radio coverage in some areas. This is especially true for field units trying to call back to dispatch.

“When you follow the FCC mandate, which you did, you lose effective power, and your coverage shrinks,” he said. “And the problem, you’ll know, is suddenly you’ve got several corners of the county that start to lose coverage.”

These coverage gaps have created an unsafe situation, Sheriff Robert Paschke said. Board Chairman Carl Altman agreed, and after the meeting said the county needs to find a way to fix the problem.

Upgrading the county’s current VHF system could be expensive, and some options might not completely fix the problem, Kooyers said. Plus, the county would have to get approval from not only the FCC but the Canadian government as well, since it’s located within a certain distance of the border. Going through the regulatory process could take up to a year.

Instead, Kooyers suggested the county use its current system strictly for fire dispatch, with law enforcement switching over to the Michigan Public Safety Communications System. To do so, the county would purchase five portable units and 12 to 13 mobile units, paying $50 per year, per radio to the state to use the system. Firefighters would have to use the current system because they use pagers that don’t work on the radio frequency the system uses.

Jodi Kucera, Tele-Rad sales consultant, said these 17 to 18 units include some for Rogers City Police Department. After the meeting, Altman said these new radios would cost around $90,000, and the county would have the option to pay for them over time.

Paschke’s department already has 12 that would work with the system, bought through a recently awarded Department of Homeland Security grant, he said.

The system covers 97 percent of the state, Motorola Account Manager Rich Uslan said. Other counties already are using it as their primary source of dispatch. Presque Isle County has four towers for the system within it, but there still isn’t 100 percent coverage. Portable radio users still will have to deal with some dead spots.

Paschke demonstrated the county setup’s failings at a previous committee meeting, he said. He offered to do the same for the whole board at a future meeting to show just how bad it is.

“There are days where we’ll go five, six hours where we can’t talk,” he said. “It’s almost to the point where we’re going to draw the patrols off the road. It’s very frustrating for a deputy to be out there, for a dispatcher trying to communicate and there’s nothing there.”

Kucera also recommended the county get a service contract to cover current system. Technicians would be available at all hours to keep the radio base running. The county could add the new radios to the contract, and the state maintains the towers.

Tele-Rad does business in 35 counties, and Presque Isle County is the only one the company knows of still running on one transmitter, Kooyers said.

Finance and public health and safety committee members will discuss the idea, Altman said after the meeting.

In other business:

Probation Officer Denise Milliron went over the county’s child care fund with commissioners, talking about how the numbers will fluctuate depending on the number of children going into foster care, institutional care and other programs. They authorized Altman to sign a contract allowing Milliron’s office to be reimbursed in part by the state for certain services it performs.

local Michigan State University Extension agriculture educator James DeDecker gave a presentation about the programs he worked on this growing season. This includes a program monitoring wheat crops, and another checking the spread and prevalence of the Western bean cutworm.

commissioners approved resolutions adding Treasurer Bridget LaLonde’s and Clerk Ann Marie Main’s signatures to all county accounts at a local bank. Prosecutor Rick Steiger also requested they replace the name on a bank account his office uses, as the cosigner is about to retire.

commissioners approved a request from county E-911 Coordinator Renee Szymanski to amend the 911 system budget by $7,398.57. The money for the new 911 dispatch system’s maintenance plan should have been included, and will come from sheriff department revenues already budgeted for.

commissioners adopted a resolution opposing a bill in the state House of Representatives that would raise fees on local emergency medical services.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.