Council approves police, fire communications upgrade using $2M grant

Published 4:33 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
A $2 million grant from the state of Tennessee will allow the Elizabethton Police Department and the Fire Department to upgrade the communications system and improve communications with neighboring jurisdictions.

Elizabethton City Council during Thursday night’s regular meeting approved receiving the grant from the Tennessee Violent Crime Intervention Fund and beginning infrastructure improvements through Motorola Solutions. Also approved was a contract with Crown Castle Communications to lease necessary space to add a repeater site to the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network (TCAN).

According to previous reports, the Carter County Commission in August 2022 approved a $4.5 million communications system that included joining the TACN and erecting radio sites on White Rock Mountain, Fall Creek in Avery County, North Carolina, and Stone Mountain in Johnson County, which Motorola Solutions said should enable vehicle-mounted radios to communicate in 98% of the county.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Carter County chose not to include city departments, nor fund upgrading the TACN system to allow improvements in coverage around most of the city. Since that time, city police and fire departments have been seeking grants to add the radio repeater site necessary for those agencies and the street and sanitation department to have the coverage necessary to join the TACN system.

The city is in a valley near two TACN sites, but the topography prohibits communications to and from those sites, especially inside buildings, according to a summary provided to council members. During the process of exploring the upgrade, it was determined that the current radio tower on Paty Hill was insufficient for the TACN system and a replacement tower could not be built on the existing site. The Motorola representatives found a nearby cell phone tower that had available rental space. After two years, the city will be responsible for tower space rental at $34,800 per year, with a 2% annual increase for 15 years.

Motorola Solutions estimated the system costs at $1,940,964, which covers equipment and services. The grant will fund two years of tower site rental, the purchase of 35 of the 204 radios needed for the system, repeaters, antennas, generator, building and associated site equipment. Afterward, the city will be responsible for electric service, propane, generator maintenance, and site insurance costs.

The unfunded $814,159.96 breaks down as follows: 84 mobile (vehicle) radios at $4,999 each, totaling $419.922.72; 76 portable (handheld) radios at $4,569.16 each, totaling $347,256.16; and nine base station radios at $5,220.12 each, totaling $46,981.08.

“How are we going to come up with the other $815,000?” asked Councilman Michael Simerly.

“We’re doing our best to continue to work on grants to find the rest of the funding for the radios,” said Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw. “You know this is something that would be very important to us to go to this system, especially now that the county has went, or is in the process of going.”

City Manager Daniel Estes noted that “the lion’s share of the grant proceeds are being spent to purchase the equipment and the access to the cell tower for the equipment to be installed,” which amounts to about two-thirds of the cost. “We can’t straddle the fence, so we’re going to have to do this,” he said. “And then if we’re not prepared and don’t land a grant to fund the rest, we’re going to keep what we have and fund the tower location until such time as we can buy the radios and be prepared to take that on.”

According to the summary, in addition to partnering with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, the Elizabethton Police Department will also be partnering with the Elizabethton Fire Department. The Elizabethton Fire Department will be soliciting federal funds for the TACN radios. The Elizabethton Police Department is soliciting funds through this grant to build the first phase of the project which is the infrastructure.

City Fire Chief Barry Carrier told council members he thinks the city “has a good shot at the grant that’s coming up in the spring” that will fund the remainder of the mobile radios for vehicles and the handheld radios. While there is a significant unfunded amount, Carrier said the city only had to look to the 2016 Gatlinburg fires to understand how important it is for city emergency teams to communicate with other agencies.

“People came in there from everywhere,” he said. “We sent guys, Kingsport sent people, everybody sent people. And they got down there, nobody could talk. Nobody could talk.”

The fire chief said the state created a system with the goal of emergency agencies being able to communicate with each other and most counties have already gone to the system, or are in the process. “It’s really expensive to start with,” Carrier said. “The prices have come down and there’s more grants available now.”

Due to equipment delivery and construction project timeline estimates, it could be 12 to 18 months before this system is up and running.

In other business, council members:

— approved supporting the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant to fund the Downtown Elizabethton Complete Streets Improvement Project, which is part of the 2023 Downtown Mobility Plan. The project would make East E Street and East Elk Avenue bi-directional with on-street parking and bike lanes. It would also involve utility improvements, signage, striping, and improvements to sections of sidewalks.

— approved The Goose Chase’s scheduling of the “Music and Miles Half Marathon” at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, May 11, requiring the street closures at 3rd Street for the start and finish of the race and East Elk Ave. from the monument to U.S. 19-E (right lane closure). Elizabethton Police Department estimates $1,980 in staffing and overtime, while the Street Department estimates $600.

— approved First Christian Church’s holding its Easter Sunday lawn service on Sunday, March 31, on the Hattie Avenue side of the church, requiring the closing of Hattie Avenue from East Doe Avenue to the front of Danny’s Auto Glass and Upholstery, 520 Hattie Ave. from 8 a.m. until noon. The Street Department estimates the closure will cost $300. Approval was contingent upon receipt of a certificate of insurance.

— approved Friends of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter’s request to hold the “Happy Tails 5K Run/1K Walk” fundraiser at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10. The Street Department’s estimated financial impact is $745.02 in staffing and overtime hours. Approval was contingent upon receipt of a certificate of insurance.

— approved the following appointments: Charles Stahl, two-year term that expires October 2025 (appointment has been deferred since October 2023) on Personnel Advisory Board; Myles Cook, five-year term (expires January 2029) on the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals; and Hudson Smith, one-year term as student representative on Parks and Recreation Board (expires February 2025).

— approved on second reading an amendment to the budget to cover $314,725 in engineering and repairs related to a 48-inch stormwater line that had failed behind West Towne Shopping Center on Hudson Drive. Summers-Taylor was the low-bid contractor at $296,350, while Spoden and Wilson Consulting was selected as the engineer, at a cost of $18,375.

— approved on second reading amending the budget to account for Independence Day Celebration and Covered Bridge Days Jams sponsorships in the amount of $14,500.

— approved on second reading a budget amendment to purchase two Nissan Frontiers for the Water Resources Department at a cost of $76,626.

— approved accepting Public Entity Partners 2023-2024 James L. Richardson Driver Matching Grant Program for Elizabethton Electric in the amount of $4,500 as part of the driver safety program.

— approved participating in the Property Conservation Matching Grant from Public Entity Partners (PEP) in the amount of $5,000. The Elizabethton Electric Department budgeted for the replacement of office security camera system this year and the grant will reimburse the cost of the security camera system replacement.

— approved participation in the Public Entity Partners Cyber Security Matching Grant Program.

— approved supporting a TDOT Transportation Planning Grant to update traffic signal timing.

— approved a Franklin Pool renovation agreement with First Tennessee Development District.

— approved the purchase of a 2025 Kenworth T48 with a Roger’s Manufacturing dump body for the Water Resources Department.

— approved the annual IT services contract with Doe River Technology Services.