The Shelby County Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to earmark $700,000 from the county's Emergency 911 fund to partially pay for $3.8 million worth of infrastructure that will be needed for a new 800-megahertz radio system.
"This is a little more than half the cost of this ($7 million) project," said Shelby County Sheriff Mike Bowlby.
The $700,000 will help pay for three communications towers. Bowlby said the affected landowners have agreed to not charge any rent to the county for the tower sites.
On Feb. 4, Bowlby had suggested to the Shelby County Board of Commissioners that the 911 surcharge be raised from 75 cents to the maximum the county is allowed to charge telephone customers, which is $2.57. The fee, charged each month on land-line phones, was adopted by the county council in October 1992 and never has been increased. The surcharge for cell phones is 50 cents a month.
But by Feb. 19, Bowlby announced that he would postpone his request to raise the county's 911 surcharge until he could do more research on exactly how much the new SAFE-T (Safely Acting For Everyone Together) 800-megahertz system would cost.
Since then, Bowlby and other county officials have been searching for grants, as well as other revenue sources, that would help fund the new radio system. So far, the county has found at least two grants, totaling $1.1 million.
The recent Kernan-Shepard Commission report on improving government operations included a recommendation that all public safety departments in Indiana transition to the SAFE-T 800-megahertz system.
Bowlby said the system would have proved useful during the recent tornado and flood disaster, where cell phones were unreliable. The county had difficulty reaching the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies during water rescues and other emergencies over the past two weeks, he said.
The sheriff has said that that the county's current VHF radio system is obsolete. He said it is getting more difficult to find part for it, as well as technicians who know how to repair it.