By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Planing for a major upgrade for emergency communication, the Lee County Board of Supervisors intends to spend up to $8.5 million to replace existing 911 communication radios used countywide, an action requiring a modest tax increase.
Supervisors unanimously agreed Monday to support the upgrade, the first since emergency 911 service began in the county in the early 1990s.
“We have to do this if we want to keep our people safe,” said Bobby Smith, supervisor for the second district and board president.
County leaders acknowledge the existing system’s age and technology capabilities make find finding replacement parts a challenge.
“It’s like operating a computer made in the early 1990s,” said Paul Harkins, Lee County 911 coordinator.
The Lee County E911 Board of Commissioners has recommended switching to the system used by state agencies, allowing easier communication between Lee County emergency personnel and others outside of the area. The new upgrade also will allow county public safety personnel to better communicate within the county during emergency situations through expanded radio coverage.
While supervisors intend to issue up to $8.5 million in bonds for the communication upgrade, County Administrator Sean Thompson said it will likely cost in the $6-7 million range.
The upgrade likely will lead to a tax increase of 1.5 mills or less, Thompson said. For most people living in a house with an assessed value of $100,000, the tax increase would be a maximum of $15 annually.
Since this effort includes a tax increase, a petition of 1,500 county resident signatures would force a referendum on the sale of bonds related to the radio upgrades.
If no referendum is required, Thompson said approval, design and installation of the new system could take up to two years.