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New statewide radio system could debut in Minot

Jill Schramm/MDN Ward County Commissioner Jim Rostad, left, consults with Ward County Sheriff Robert Roed and Chief Deputy Larry Hubbard during the 911 Committee meeting Thursday.

Minot could become the first community to roll out the new Statewide Interoperable Radio Network for emergency response. Ward County’s 911 Committee is recommending the county invest in equipment to position itself to be ready to go.

The new system will address issues of incompatibility among agencies around the state and have an improved, more reliable operating system. The state has contracted with Motorola to develop the 800 megahertz system for around $200 million. A five-year build-out is expected. It will replace the existing VHF system but also will be compatible, allowing agencies to gradually transition.

The first phases of construction involve building the core operating centers in Bismarck and Fargo and then the simulcast centers in nine communities, including Minot.

“They are trying to get a couple of areas of the state up and running,” Minot Police Chief Jason Olson told the 911 Committee Thursday. “Somebody has to go first. They have identified Minot as a city they would like to go first, and I’m fully in support.”

Olson said there’s an advantage in being first because the vendor will want to ensure satisfaction and a smooth rollout to continue gaining support both from agencies and the Legislature as the project progresses.

“The Legislature next session is going to be very interested in what was accomplished,” he said.

The committee voted to recommend using money in a depreciation account for equipment purchases to proceed with getting local infrastructure in place for the new communications network. The Ward County Commission will have to act on the recommendation to release funds for equipment.

“If we go forward with it, we could have our system up and running roughly by this time next year,” Olson said.

The state will pay for much of the network infrastructure with $120 million approved by the Legislature. It is a local responsibility to upgrade the Minot’s Central Dispatch Center, which is estimated to cost about $493,000.

Ward County’s 911 program has $559,290 in its depreciation account, and another $135,000 is budgeted to be transferred into depreciation this year.

Agencies also will incur costs for mobile or portable communication equipment, but the state will cover a portion of the expense. Olson said Minot Police Department has about 130 radios to replace, or about $500,000 in equipment. The state would reimburse $200,000.

The county’s 911 operating budget is currently $218,524 in the red. That’s less bleak than appeared earlier this year when the committee was projecting a $698,706 shortfall between the amount budgeted and actual financial need because of the new state network and a deficit coming into 2019.

The city had agreed to increase its contribution by $454,159 and the county by $244,547 to cover the shortfall. The county initially was considering using 911 depreciation funds to cover its cost because other funds weren’t available. Since then, the county has seen savings in its health insurance expenses and could choose to use the savings to free up depreciation funds for communications equipment.

The 911 program has an adjusted 2019 budget of nearly $2.4 million. The committee is proposing a 2020 budget of $2.2 million. The $1.50 phone fee is estimated to generate $1.1 million. Property taxes needed to support the 2020 budget come to $465,000 for the city and $250,385 for the county. The budget also includes a 50-cent phone fee toward the state communications network.

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