Faulkner County justices of the peace agree that something must be done to help link area emergency responders, but they aren’t sure that a one-cent sales tax for one year is the remedy.
Quorum Court members did not officially discuss the budding proposal, but the need to incorporate all area emergency personnel into the same system is a matter of importance to JPs. Some pointed to the 2011 Vilonia tornado when several agencies were a few blocks from each other but could not communicate.
The original proposal presented to JPs included the Conway police and fire departments, but Conway Alderman Mark Vaught told JPs that he was told that both departments felt "out of the loop" with the proposal.
"I know we have already moved money for the fire department’s upgrade," Vaught said, indicating that a portion of the revenue from the city’s sales tax rededication was supposed to help fund new radio systems for both departments.
Vilonia Fire Chief Keith Hillman, spokesman for the communications board , said Monday that there was a possibility of placing the penny sales tax proposal on the November general election ballot.
"The current radio system we have is badly outdated," Hillman said. "If something very bad were to happen, I don’t think we would be able to speak with anyone."
The proposed tax would generate an estimated $14.5 million, officials said.
Grace Communications recently submitted a price quote that would place a radio in every fire truck and police car along with handheld radios for every emergency responder.
The plan would cost approximately $4.2 million for Faulkner County fire departments, $3.6 million for Conway departments, $1.5 million for additional voice channels at Guy, Floyd and Cabot Towers, and $270,000 for additional radios. The total cost would be about $10 million, with a $5 million surplus for maintenance and future upgrades.
Hillman said the project would be self-sustaining. He said the radios would be part of the Arkansas Wireless Information Network, which is the system used by state troopers.
JPs wondered who would be in charge of the system once it was in place, and if the numbers provided were concrete or whether the proposal could be bid.
County Judge Preston Scroggin acknowledged that the proposal is in its infancy.
"It definitely needs to be fleshed out," Scroggin said of the proposal. "But it will be something we can discuss down the road."
In other business, the court approved amendments to ordinances transferring money within departments for various purposes. The county clerk’s request for money for the preferential primary election was granted with the knowledge that the state refunds the county for between 95 and 100 percent of the election costs.
The court also was informed that all agendas and ordinances will now be available online at faulknercounty.org.