The Mobile County Communications District held a symbolic groundbreaking for a communications system improvement project that was announced more than two years ago.
The $40 million project, awarded to Harris Communications in 2013, seeks to enhance the emergency communications system throughout the county using Harris’ Project 25 (P25) 700 MHz radio system. It was partially funded with a $34.9 million revenue bond issued last year.
To support the expanded equipment, the project will also include the creation of five new communications towers at sites on Salco Road, Citronelle, Wilmer, Bayou la Batre and Bay Road.
“This is a 700 megahertz trunked radio system — a new technology that’s specifically for public safety and it’s fully interoperable with any police, fire, law enforcement or military agencies in this country,” MCCD Board Chairman and County Engineer Joe Ruffer said. “Anyone can come in during a time of disaster and we’ll be able to communicate with them, and all the agencies within Mobile County can now communicate with each other without any problem.”
Steve Smith of Harris Communications said construction would soon begin and continue at several locations throughout the next five months. The project will then be in the hands of Hurricane Electronics, who was subcontracted by Harris to perform some of the technical work.
Ruffer said the project’s cost also includes the purchase of portable radios and additional mobile units for all the public safety agencies in the county. An additional 29 Internet protocol dispatch consoles will be provided, which will allow dispatchers located at 911 to communicate quickly and reliably to any desktop or mobile device.
Nine complete electronic communication shelters are also being installed along with the new additional communications towers.
MCCD Director Gary Tanner said the Harris system would enhance the ability of firefighters, law enforcement officers and other first responders.
“These folks have made this possible today by finding the funds necessary to build this state-of-the-art communications system for our emergency communications system in Mobile county,” he said.
Tanner said the system should be operating within the next few months, and last year, said the bond would be paid back over a seven-year period by pledging all of the district’s revenues exceeding operating expenses.
The MCCD set aside $15 million for planned expenditures in its FY 2015 budget, all of which were listed in operational funds. That’s just under the $16.9 million in total revenue the District has projected for 2015.
The largest expenditure is of that 2015 budget is the $5.4 million set aside for capital improvements to the metro radio systems – one seventh of Harris’ $40 million price tag.
For years, 911 services were funded through a fee on landline phones that were able to utilize a county’s emergency services. Those fees were paid directly to the local district or in Mobile’s case, the MCCD.
Up until two years ago, cell phone fees were collected at the state level and then distributed to each district based on population, according to Tanner.
However, since 2012, the State 911 Board has collected all fees and distributed an amount to each district based on a formula in the 2011 legislation that created the 13-member state board.
Though they were intended to stay the same for five years, the rates for those cell phone fees increased to $1.75 in August of this year.
Per the legislation, the current distribution method will continue through 2019. Tanner said 2015 will be the MCCD’s first full year projecting income using the new formula.
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