Pott Co New 911 Center

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County: Radio upgrades a priority
Chad Nation , Staff Writer Daily Nonpareil

Public safety headlined the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday.

The board moved the plan forward for an 800MHz public safety radio upgrade project and fashioned a counter-offer to the city of Council Bluffs under which the county would take control of the 911 Communications Center.

The board's action was in response to a proposal from the city of Council Bluffs to take control of the 911 Communications Center. On Oct. 9, the City Council authorized Pottawattamie County officials to take over the administration of the 911 Communication Center, but did so with various stipulations.

The board voted 4-1 to continue negotiations on the matter. Chairman Loren Knauss, Lynn Leaders, Delbert King and Betty Moats voted to continue talks, while Melvyn Houser voted against it.

Houser said that in light of the magnitude of the 800MHz project, he would prefer to continue with the current agreement between the city and the county.

"The agreement now is not perfect, but I don't know if we can get it any better," Houser said.

The current 28E agreement calls for the city to pay 60 percent of the 911 Communications Center's operational costs. In a June 2 letter, Knauss argued that the city is currently only paying "approximately 50 percent," or $600,000, of the operational costs, and the county has had to find "approximately $180,000 in an attempt to keep the 911 Communications Center operational and to maintain public safety."

City Councilman Darren Bates attended Wednesday's meeting and said that the two sides were close to an understanding.

"I don't speak for my colleagues, but I think we are close," Bates said. "When I was first elected to the council, I thought we would be a mile away from where we are today. People are starting to understand the issue."

Leaders said that there would be no way to make the taxation for the 911 center equal, but having the county operate it through property tax revenues would be the fairest way.

The city's offer called for a payment of $600,000 for this fiscal year and one additional payment of $300,000 for the fiscal year 2007-08, which starts next July 1.

The board approved a counter-proposal calling for a four-year phase out at $600,000 in fiscal year 2007-08, $450,000 in fiscal year 2008-09, $300,000 in fiscal year 2009-10 and $150,000 in fiscal year 2010-11. The city would not be responsible for the center after fiscal year 2011.

Leaders said the tax increase that would be required by the county to cover for the elimination of the city's payments would be partially offset for city residents because the city would no longer have to collect those funds.

"Hopefully, the reductions would amount to a $600,000 savings for the city, and they could reduce taxes," Leaders said. "It might not offset what we have to raise, but it should be a reduction."

The board also voted unanimously to construct a new building to house the 800MHz system. While the location, cost and size of the building are still not known, the board agreed that deciding to build would move the project forward.

A steering committee for the project was looking at three options: Renting a building and retrofitting it for the project, buying a building and retrofitting it for the project or building a new building.

Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker and project manager Sgt. John Reynolds told the board that several existing buildings had been reviewed for the project, including the Pottawattamie County Courthouse, the Farner Bocken building, the Omni Centre and the Qwest building. All of the buildings faced issues concerning their location, electrical, ventilation or structural soundness.

"For the facility, we have to be very specific on what we need," Danker said. "It would be tough to retrofit an existing building."

The building would have to be capable of withstanding an F-5 tornado, a bomb detonation and the ventilation would have to be able to withstand a bio-terrorist attack.

Reynolds said that a new building at the Pottawattamie County Jail site would seem the most logical because the county already owns the land, and law enforcement is on hand around the clock.

The board approved the recommendation to build, but no site has been selected. The board also unanimously approved establishing a project finance committee and a public information committee for the project.

In earlier discussions, Knauss has said the county plans to apply for a $10 million grant from the Iowa West Foundation that would fund a portion of the 800 MHz project.

A review of Nonpareil archives shows that the foundation granted $4.5 million split among 32 organizations in the third quarter of this year, $5.7 million split amount 41 organizations in the second quarter and $4.6 million distributed to 28 organizations in the first quarter of the current year. In the fourth quarter of 2005, the foundation awarded grants totaling $3.5 million to 30 organizations.
 
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