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Cornelius News

September surprise: Town must spend $600K on radios

Sept. 20. By Dave Vieser. The Cornelius Town Board has agreed to spend $600,000 on new public safety radios for the police and fire departments. The expense was not budgeted for this year according to Police Chief Bence Hoyle and Fire Chief Neil Smith because the town was under the impression they could wait until next year.

The safety officials met with the Town Board Monday to explain the need for immediate action.

“We found out very recently that Mecklenburg County is moving to purchase the new radios this year, and Motorola is offering significant savings to piggyback on their contract,” Hoyle and Smith said in their presentation to the board. “This is why we are here today on short notice.”

Cornelius is part of the greater Charlotte radio system which includes surrounding counties. This system utilizes the Motorola architecture and has for decades. “Every 10 years or so radios have to be replaced with new equipment” said Hoyle, “due primarily to lack of support for older equipment and the integration of new technology.”

There are two types of radios which need to be upgraded: Portable Radios which are assigned to each individual police officer and firefighter and mobile radios installed in each vehicle. In total the town will be purchasing 96 radios for the police, and 76 for the Fire Department.

By acting now, the town will get a 20 percent discount on the total cost, which results in a $150,000 savings.

The $285,340 expense for the police radios can be covered by drug forfeiture funds, but the $314,600 cost for fire radios will need to come from the town’s general fund. The fire department portable radios are more expensive due to added elements needed for safety. The town has a fund balance of some $16 million which will cover cost for the fire department radios.

“The county didn’t tell the towns about this,” said Commissioner Mike Miltich. “It came out of a meeting, so everybody is now scrambling to get approval.” Miltich said the commissoners will have to approve the spending in a future budget amendment, “but Cornelius will proceed with the purchase.”

Motorola is essentially the only game in town when it comes to public safety radios. “We’ve looked at alternative lower cost radios from other manufacturers” said Smith. “In fact, we field-tested several brands that were cheaper, but we had problems with those units as did users we interviewed.”