NEW KENT – New Kent County is considering joining a regional emergency communications team that includes Yorktown, Williamsburg, James City and Gloucester.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on June 25 to authorize County Administrator Rodney Hathaway to send a letter of intent to Motorola, Inc. for the purchase of a new regional radio system.
Although New Kent is sending Motorola a letter of intent, the county has no financial obligation to sign a contract.
With the letter of intent, Motorola will conduct a survey of the county's current communication system at no cost to the county, and then provide a cost estimate for building new towers and joining the regional team. Right now, Motorola is estimating the cost at $6.7 million, although that cost could come in lower if the company can reuse any of the county's existing communication towers.
An emergency communications needs assessment, presented by Consulting Engineering Associations, Inc. in May, reported that New Kent would need four 300-foot communication towers at $1-2 million per site, as well as all portable and mobile (car/bus) radios.
These sites would expand New Kent emergency communication coverage to span the entire county and serve as a main area for organized disaster management and evacuation, especially along Interstate 64.
The communication system in New Kent currently covers 50 percent of the portable radios and 80 percent of the mobile radios in the county. The public safety standard is 95 percent.
New Kent also uses a VHF communication system, which has become antiquated by new technology, including the 800/700 mHz regional system.
New Kent County's Financial Consultant Ted Cole, of Davenport & Associates, presented the county on June 25 with two payment options, both of which include deferred payments and the reallocation of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 two-cent tax increase totaling $486,000, originally set for the now defunct historic high school project, and raising taxes another penny in FY2016 and FY2018, which would total another $486,000.
If the county chooses to pay some of the money upfront, the total debt could be reduced to around $5.9 million. The first annual payment of $723,000 would be deferred until Aug. 1, 2015 (FY16). The system would be paid off in 10 years, the estimated life span of the equipment before needing repairs.
Two years after the system goes online, the county will also have to fund the system's $211,000 annual maintenance cost. This figure takes into consideration cost savings from maintaining the current system.
Cole explained that in the other financing option, the county could make a slightly larger payment upfront but start payments a year later, on Aug. 1, 2017 (FY16) This would increase the annual cost to $750,000, or $27,000 more every year.
Motorola will provide the county with its findings in three or four weeks. The Board of Supervisors will then decide by Aug. 1 if they will sign a contract to become part of the regional team.
Currently, New Kent County has $57 million in debt, with the majority, or $51 million, going toward school projects. With a 20,000 population, New Kent averages a debt of $2,900 per person.
It has a $900,000 debt service fund that is due to run out in FY17, which is why Cole is proposing that the county raise taxes in FY16 and FY18.
“All of [New Kent's] existing debt is being paid for in a sustainable fashion and I don't see this project being any different,” he said.
“Without the tax increases, [the county] will see a shortfall and have to find a way to cover that money.”
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.