Paducah, McCracken County moving forward with 911 radio infrastructure upgrades
Paducah’s City Commission and McCracken County’s Fiscal Court authorized their leaders this week to take the next steps in updating their existing emergency communications radio infrastructure to better aid first responders.
The two governments have agreed to enter negotiations with telecommunications group Communications International to make necessary updates to the existing public safety radio system. That includes radio towers, radio infrastructure at the Paducah Police Department’s 911 Center and handheld radios used by first responders like police officers and firefighters.
At a city commission meeting on Tuesday, Paducah City Manager Daron Jordan said Communications International was selected after the city received two bids – with the other coming from Motorola – to replace the equipment. An eight-person working group of city and county officials and first responders worked with third-party consulting group Federal Engineering to evaluate the proposals.
“The process also did an individual component where each of the individual committee members took the proposals and evaluated them based on a scoring sheet and collectively, the city clerk combined all those,” Jordan said. “We met again and 100% of committee members were all in agreement that the [Communications International] proposal was the one to recommend.”
While city officials said a final price has yet to be determined, the city previously estimated system replacement costs to be between $8 million and $12 million.
Selecting a company to work with for system upgrades is part of a years-long process Paducah and McCracken County have undertaken to replace components of its 911 system that have reached the end of their manufacturer-estimated lifespan. The radio system allows first responders to communicate with each other while in the field, and receive radio dispatches from telecommunicators working in the 911 Center.
Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird previously said the police department has had to buy parts on Ebay to replace parts of the radio system that manufacturers no longer produce. Other officials have raised concerns about putting first responders’ safety at risk if a critical component of the existing 911 radio system were to fail.
Currently, the city of Paducah owns the 911 radio system. The existing 911 Center is a division of the Paducah Police Department. McCracken County pays Paducah to be a customer on that system, and county first responders like McCracken County Sheriff’s deputies and county volunteer firefighters receive emergency dispatches from the city-operated 911 Center. The city and county have agreed to split the costs of the 911 radio system updates, and have McCracken County join on as a co-owner of the system.
In addition to negotiating with Communications International for radio system equipment costs, Paducah Mayor George Bray said one of the next steps for both the city and county is figuring out how the governments will pay not only for the system, but also for the annual cost of 911 Center operations.
Paducah and McCracken County assessed landline fees to pay for 911 Center operations. However, as the number of landlines in use declines, so has the revenues the governments have brought in from landlines to pay for 911 services. Bray said it currently costs over $2.1 million annually to pay for 911 center operations.
“And that has escalated every single year since the landline fee, to go back to our previous discussions, when the landline fee covered the majority of our 911 costs,” he said at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
City and county leaders have previously discussed levying new fees to replace the revenues from the landline fee. While Paducah’s City Commission previously accepted a recommendation to assess a monthly fee on water meters to pay for 911 center operations, Bray said on Tuesday he and McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer have spoken about applying an annual parcel fee to county residents’ property tax bills to pay for 911 services.
Bray said no decisions have been finalized about new fees, and that city and county officials are still discussing whether the fees would cover operational costs or whether any of the revenues from potential fees would go toward paying for radio system equipment updates.