Council eyes bond issue to fund countywide communications system

Proponents originally placed $100 million cost on system.

By EVAN YOUNG

County officials have asked the County Council to authorize the sale of roughly $120 million in bonds to finance a new countywide emergency communications system.

County Executive Charlie Dooley last week requested the appropriation legislation on behalf of the Emergency Communications Commission, which voted unanimously to recommend the bond issue earlier this month, according to Director of Administration Pamela Reitz.

A 0.1-percent sales tax approved by county voters last November as Proposition E-911 will fund the bond debt.

“I anticipate a substantial portion of the bonds will take advantage of the Build America Bond program, a component of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is set to expire at the end of 2010,” Reitz wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to Dooley.

Before last November’s election, Prop E-911 supporters and ECC officials placed a $100 million price tag on the new communications system, which will consist of an interoperable radio system, 911 call center upgrades and an overhaul of county emergency sirens.

A draft ECC budget presented to the County Council last month projected a $116 million bond issue.

“Because the county cannot execute the sizable contracts necessary to proceed with implementation of the project until financing is in place,” Reitz wrote, “time is of the essence.”

Councilmen last week unanimously voted to expedite through final passage a bill authorizing a $2.2 million agreement with New Jersey-based RCC Consultants.

The council also amended the legislation to declare it an “emergency ordinance” that would take effect immediately upon final passage.

Garry Earls, the county’s chief operating officer, has said RCC will help officials prepare a request-for-proposals for the construction of the communication system’s infrastructure. The project should go out for bid by April or May, Earls said recently.

Besides other safety personnel in the county, Earls has said that first responders also will be able to radio their counterparts in St. Louis city, St. Charles County and Jefferson County under the new system.

The latter two counties already have contracted with RCC, Earls said last week.

“They are waiting for us,” he said. “They don’t want to start without us so there’s one set of specifications for their build-out and our build-out.”

Councilmen already have approved a roughly $2 million appropriation from the dedicated sales tax revenue, which the county will begin to collect in April, to the ECC. Of the $2,004,679 appropriated, $1.5 million will be used to pay for consultant services, and $504,679 will fund the salaries and benefits of six ECC employees.