Debate continues regarding funding of new communication system for county fire departments

Fire departments request county commission to kick in more of $240,000 price tag for simulcast communication system

Everyone gathered in the conference room at the Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday night agreed on one thing: the Callaway County fire departments’ radio communication system is in need of an upgrade.

What the Callaway County Commission and representatives of all seven county fire districts could not agree on, after two hours of debate, was exactly how that new system should be funded.

The county has proposed that the $240,000 cost of the proposed simulcast system — intended to provide better coverage around the county and communication among the departments and the EOC dispatch center — be divvied up as follows:

•$40,000 from the county, to be taken out of the EOC fund.

•$8,000 from the Auxvasse Fire Department, which accounted for 4 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$34,000 from the Central Callaway Fire Protection District, which accounted for 17 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$20,000 from the South Callaway Fire Protection District, which accounted for 10 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$17,500 from the New Bloomfield Fire Department, which accounted for 8.75 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$51,000 from the North Callaway Fire Protection District, which accounted for 25.5 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$16,000 from the Millersburg Fire Department, which accounted for 8 percent of calls from 2011-13.

•$53,500 from the Holts Summit Fire Department, which accounted for 26.75 percent of calls from 2011-13.

The commission’s proposed funding method would have the county pay for the system and each department reimburse the county by paying 40 percent of their portion of the cost in the first year, and 20 percent of their portion each year for the following three years. After a three-year warranty on the new system, the fire departments also would divide a $4,000 per year maintenance fee based on call volumes. Any future upgrades or additions would be paid for the same way. The county would pay for insurance on the system and to maintain all of the equipment located in the Callaway County Joint Communications facility.

The problem, according to a number of the representatives of the county fire boards gathered Wednesday night, is that they would be hard-pressed to meet that pay schedule, and they want the county to contribute more.

“I think it’s insulting to offer to pay $40,000 when you have $1 million in reserve,” Holts Summit Fire Chief Jason Turner said. “That’s a hell of a hit to our budgets.”

Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said several times he sympathized with being bound by a tight budget — he noted the county does not “have the money to dump into this” and is faced with increased needs from the sheriff’s department and the county jail. He said the money the county is kicking in isn’t coming from the general fund, but from the EOC 911 fund.

Because the money in that fund comes from all of the EOC system users — including Ameren, the Fulton police and fire departments, the sheriff’s department and the Callaway County Ambulance District — Jungermann said the commission does not feel justified in contributing more than the $40,000 it is already offering for a system that would only benefit the county fire departments.

It was a point echoed by Western District Commissioner Doc Kritzer.

“That is accumulated from all the players that put into it. This isn’t our money, this is the EOC fund,” Kritzer said. “The fire departments pay in the least amount (based on percent of usage) and you’re asking for the most back.

“The reason why this proposal came to you to help fund it is because this is for your benefit.”

Don Lehenbauer, a board member with the North Callaway Fire Protection District, said several times he understood the fire departments being responsible for paying for the system, but questioned whether the payments could be stretched out longer.

Several of the fire district representatives, including Tim Massman, president of the Holts Summit Fire Board, Central Callaway Fire Protection Board president Dale Dodd and members of the South Callaway Fire Protection District, expressed a desire to have the ability to make decisions regarding things like system maintenance and upgrades.

“We don’t have a clear description of who’s responsible for what,” Dodd said.

Dodd also suggested creating a seven-member board that could oversee running the EOC.

Fellow Central Fire board member Dave West suggested at one point that if the fire districts could not afford to pay for a system now they should stick with the existing system and put together an exploratory committee to consider upgrading to a simulcast system in a few years. After extended debate on those issues, the fire district representatives asked the commissioners to step out of the meeting for a moment. During that time they all agreed that they want to move forward with the new system, but asked the commission to contribute $60,000.

The commission will discuss that request at a meeting later this week.

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