ANDERSON — The implementation of the new 700-800 MHZ digital radios have been lauded as a great asset for emergency response personnel in Grimes County. However, recent confusion regarding who was to pay for installation and maintenance was a cause for concern for local volunteer fire departments and commissioners and required additional clarification on who was liable.
The Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG) obtained and refurbished 700-800 MHZ digital radios from the city of Bryan, allowing Grimes County to purchase the radios from BVCOG at minimum cost.
The trunk system units were being installed in fire department vehicles when questions began to emerge a couple of months ago. Apparently, there had been confusion on whether the county or the individual departments would be footing the bill for installation and maintenance, which resulted in a delay for needed clarification.
“When I first came to the fire departments, I said we (the county) would take care of the installation costs,” said Grimes County Emergency Management Coordinator David Lilly. “I overstepped on that. I’m not saying the commissioners or county would not approve of the cost, just the process I took was wrong.”
Richards VFD Chief Cort Norwood first addressed his concerns about the confusion during a commissioners court meeting, noting that his department “didn’t have the funds for maintenance on the new radios.”Norwod said that “if his department was required to pay for the maintenance,” then he “would bring the radios to court and place them on the desk” of the commissioners.
“We’d already covered expenses for four departments by the time the concern of maintenance arose. Commissioners told me it’s not that they refuse to pay for installation, but they want to resolve any concerns departments might have before moving forward,” said Lilly.
Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth III asked the departments if the cost was not a factor, did the departments “believe the 700-800 MHZ radio system is improving the safety of the citizens in Grimes County.” The answer by all was a resounding yes.
“On the basis of that, I think we should pursue … so that we’re all in sync together,” explained Fauth.
During a workshop, all parties voiced their concerns and asked for clarification on monetary liability for the new radio system. According to BVCOG Radio Systems Manager Thomas Gilbert each radio placed on the BVWAX system will incur a monthly fee of $23.68 per radio, to be directed towards maintenance for the system. Norwood said that the term maintenance needed to be clarified.
“If its battery maintenance and replacing radios that’s one thing, but if it’s the monthly fees we can’t pay that,” explained Norwood, citing budget concerns.
Anderson VFD Fire Chief Michael Kimich echoed Norwod’s concern and said, “That’s where our conflict is - we can buy a battery, but we can’t afford $30 a month per radio maintenance fee.”
Commissioner Pct. 3 Barbara Walker explained that commissioners never knew that systems would be installed in vehicles and understood only handheld radios would be given to the departments.
“That presented a problem, because funds weren’t allocated for installations in the budget,” explained Walker. “Let me clarify for everyone, the subscription fee per month per radio is being paid by Grimes County.”
Gilbert said there are two types of “maintenance” - infrastructure maintenance, which the county is paying for through its monthly subscription, and device maintenance, which would include batteries, antennas, power cords and more.
Gilbert said that he addressed the fire chiefs at a previous meeting and would stand behind his assertion “that if a radio breaks down” and he has the “extra parts on hand to fix the radio,” he will “do so at no charge to the departments.”
“In my opinion, there has to be a point, as a recipient of $100,000 worth of radio equipment and being handed the keys to a multimillion dollar radio system, if there comes a time when you have to spend $100 to replace a battery or on antenna than I would think the departments would just purchase those,” explained Gilbert.
The fire chiefs and commissioners said they were pleased with the defining of maintenance fees and a new contract will be drawn up by County Attorney Jon C. Fultz with a clear definition of maintenance fees. The associated cost with moving forward with installations will be placed on a future agenda for commissioner approval.