Clinton County officials continue to look at both short- and long-term solutions for emergency communications after the August derecho damaged a tower used by county first responders.
The derecho storm damaged the KROS tower, which Clinton County was leasing for first-responder communications. Communications Manager Eric Dau said the county had planned before the derecho storm to replace the tower at Eagle Point Park, which Dau believes has been in service since the 1950s. Dau said the county in the future will still need to replace the tower.
Dau added the county is looking at options for potential grants or federal funding but noted the KROS tower was being leased to the county. There is a gray area whether they are eligible for the federal disaster declaration since the tower was leased, Dau said.
Dau said that when the county lost the radio tower, county officials reached out to the state for assistance in providing radio coverage. The county had a temporary solution in place within two hour, he said. The state offered to bring in radios for the county to connect to the Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System that all state law enforcement agencies use and local agencies can also use, Dau said. Dau added that the state reached out to Motorola, which built the system for the state. Motorola offered to loan radios to the Clinton Police Department and Clinton Fire Department to use for six months. The county has the option to purchase the radios at a discounted rate at the end of the six months, Dau said.
Dau said the county received a quote from Kenwood for a similar radio application which was significantly lower than the Motorola quote. However, the Kenwood quote does not meet the needs of the county, Dau said. He said they would have issues with the repeaters not being compatible with Clinton’s repeaters and the radios not offering an option to be National Fire Protection Association compliant.
“In other words, the radios need to have bigger knobs. They need to have a different casing,” Dau said. “They need to have a different type of microphone on them. They need to have an intrinsically safe battery. That’s the biggest issue, in my opinion, is the fact that they cannot meet that demand from us.”
Dau added he sent questionnaires to county fire departments to see how many radios they need.
Clinton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Srp asked what the board’s timeline will be for making a commitment for funding a project.
Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker said he wants to see numbers for the project and then make a financial plan from there.
“I think there’s still potential options here,” Van Lancker said. “I don’t know how low we can get this, as we talked about before. There was a number we could hit without bonding at all. So I’d like to see what our right size number is as well.”
Motorola representative Brian Flynn said the company would need a purchase order or commitment from the county the first of the year. Flynn referenced the potential for a one-year, no-interest lease to allow the county to take advantage of the incentivized pricing, but also give officials 12 months to finalize the funding mechanism with no penalty to pay that off.
“We’ve had counties use it when we have that for two months on the books and then pay it off,” Flynn said. “But it gave them that window not only to expedite getting radios in public safety’s hand but also take advantage of the competitive price.”
Srp believes the board should declare intention well ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. Srp noted there is a difference between declaring intent and having cash in hand.
“Really, depending on how much we need, as the auditor alluded to, will impact how we decide to source that funding,” Srp said. “Whether it’s primary in-house, (or) whether bonding is required; that can be determined based on the scope of the project and the cost of the project.”
Flynn said Motorola would not need a full payment by Jan. 1.
John Rohlf is a Clinton Herald staff writer.