The cost of communication

State's new digital radio system may be too expensive for local agencies

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— The future of radio communication for law enforcement and emergency agencies in the state has Routt County officials concerned.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is in the midst of putting in infrastructure across the state that would allow law enforcement and emergency agencies to communicate through a digital trunked radio system.

The state plans the $45 million project in phases.

Until recently, the issue was on the backburner for local officials because Northwest Colorado was not supposed to get the infrastructure for the radio system until 2005.

However, the state has changed its plans for this part of the state and will start installing the network this year.

"We have substantial reservations about this whole process," Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The issue for the county is the state is willing to pay for the "backbone" of the digital system but is not providing funding for local agencies to use the system.

"The state is proposing to build the infrastructure along major highways and thoroughfares," said Chuck Vale, county director of emergency services. "They may be building the backbone, but agencies that want to use this system will be financially responsible. It will cost a substantial amount of money to hook up to this system."

Because state highways will be accounted for, the Colorado State Patrol offices throughout the state will not have much cost associated with the project.

However, local agencies that want to use the digital system will be on their own.

It is estimated that it will cost the county communication center which is used by the Routt County Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs police and fire departments $8 million to use the system.

To use the new digital system, the county must buy the necessary equipment to provide coverage for more than 900 miles of county roads.

"We are concerned about the cost," Monger said. "There are also questions if the system will even work in the mountains."

A meeting will be held next week so that Routt County and Moffat County officials can discuss the project.

Larry Brooks, who is managing the project, has agreed to meet with local officials at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Moffat County Public Safety Building.

Although the state is moving forward with the digital system, Routt County has plans to spend a little more than $1 million to update its current radio system. County officials know the digital radio system is the future, but the question for the county is when to make the transition.

"This is an issue we need to become familiar with," said Janice Ling, county communication director.

Ling said the county's current radio system is meeting the county's needs adequately, but the system's use has increased in the past five years.

The system is being used more because call volumes for the sheriff's office and the police and fire departments have increased.

"Time-to-time we may have a problem using the frequency," Ling said. "So we need to look at other options in the near future."

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