Focus on mending current system, McKinney urges

Friday, June 7, 2019

By Scott Loftis

The Carroll County Public Safety Advisory Board held its second meeting Thursday, May 30, discussing both immediate and long-term options to improve the county’s emergency communications system.

At the committee’s first meeting on Friday, May 24, several members urged chairman Sam Ward, who is serving as a paid consultant to the county, to develop a short-term plan to address existing problems with the system.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ward discussed his findings regarding the existing problems and said he would work to address those problems by the end of June.

Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney said he believes the first priority should be shoring up the existing system before tackling the complex issue of selecting, financing and installing a new system.

“We know we’ve got to do the radio system,” McKinney said. “I’m not trying to kick that can down the road. But if we could just get what we’ve got now satisfactory to where the people out there using it can be safe, I think that should be our first priority, because even if we go with the best system that ever has, like Sam said the other day it’s going to be … a year and a half, two years before we get that.”

McKinney said the committee might need to request additional funding from the county’s quorum court for the immediate repairs.

“I think we need to really concentrate … to get what we’ve got working now, so you guys aren’t out there in the dark (and) nobody knows where you are and you can’t get any help,” he said. “Is that going to be possible, Sam? Like I’m saying, I’m not kicking the can down the road but it would get some pressure off us if we had a working, suitable radio system where the guys out there are safe and then we’re not under the gun.”

McKinney asked Ward how much repairs will cost.

“I don’t know,” Ward said. “Part of it depends on, because we’re trying to do it in a hurry, having to have other people come in and help us, we’re having to pay more. … It’s either time or money. I think I have enough money in my budget to do it by the end of the month.”

Part of the work on the current system would involve reprogramming the radios used by the various emergency response agencies throughout the county to ensure that everyone is “on the same sheet of music,” Ward said.

Mike McKelvey of the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department said his department might not have the money to pay for reprogramming radios.

“I have permission from (County Judge Sam Barr) for some of the small fire departments to use some of the money that we have to do that,” Ward said. “I think the biggest fire department that I’m considering doing that for right now would be Green Forest. … Volunteer fire departments just don’t have very much money.”

During the course of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, committee members also discussed various options for a potential new radio system, and asked Ward to arrange a meeting with a representative from the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN) to discuss that system. Ward agreed to do so.

District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton, who chairs the quorum court’s joint budget and finance committee, has said a temporary sales tax might be the county’s best option to pay for a new communications system. Such a tax would have to be approved by voters and some committee members, including McKinney, have expressed doubts about the possibility of that happening.

At the May 24 meeting, McKinney pointed out that the county is still collecting a sales tax that initially was approved by voters to pay for the construction of the Carroll County Detention Center.

On Thursday, McKinney said he had obtained information about the sales tax fund.

“At the start of 2018 it had $1.3 million in it, and at the end of 2018 it had $1.5 more million in it,” he said. “It breaks it down pretty good. It shows where it’s going. The county’s got some money.”

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