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Osceola County officials push for new radio system

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Commissioners of the Osceola County Public Safety board were informed Wednesday evening that the county's radio communication system is so obsolete that parts are not available if there is a problem.

Osceola County Emergency Management Coordinator Debra Goettig told the board the current system is "running on empty" and reminded them the back-up system has not worked since a lightning strike in October.

"If we take another lightning hit, we are down," she stated. "No communication. And we are approaching storm season."

Osceola County Sheriff Doug Weber said he is pretty sure insurance will pay to repair or replace the back-up system, which would cost approximately $5,500.

Goettig proposed buying a new main system, which would cost $100,000. She applied for and was approved for a grant from the state for $30,000 and said $45,000 can come from the county's emergency 911 budget, but the other $25,000 would have to come from the county or be raised.

"I hope you can see your way to kicking in the $25,000," Goettig told the board. "If something happens to the current system, we would be in a world of hurt."

The current system is 14 years old and could be upgraded, but there would still be the lack of spare parts to contend with.

"I know this is a lot of money, but this is communications for our county," Goettig said.

At the commission's request, Goettig will invite a representative from Alpha Wireless of Spencer, Iowa, to attend the April 9 meeting to answer questions.

The commission opened a public hearing to discuss the 2008-2009 public safety budget, but no one came forward to discuss the issue, prompting the board members to approve the budget as it stood.

As commission chairman Jerry Johnson prepared to adjourn the meeting, Ed Joens of May City, Iowa, asked to make some remarks as a taxpayer.

Joens said he didn't understand how the county could spend $30,000 for updated computer software at the courthouse, yet couldn't afford the $25,000 it would take to put in the new communication system.

"If it's 911 equipment versus new technology...," he said. "With the size of our county, there are certain things we can't have. Did we need that more than a 911 system? There are needs and wants, and that was a want."

Commissioners explained that the mapping software was important, and they had just been made aware of the situation with the communications system.

Chris Presthus of Ashton, Iowa, spoke up to say he had heard the sheriff's office was being short-funded, something that concerned him as a citizen.

"We can only short-fund so long before we run into problems," Presthus added. "As a county, is there anything we can do to change that?"

"We are not keeping pace with the cost to support law enforcement," Joens added. "It is time to start looking into downsizing our government ... looking at places to start cutting so we can provide funding for our needs."

Presthus said he had heard the county was considering funding a bike path, something he finds less important than the sheriff's office.

Both men were thanked for their comments, but reminded that the Public Safety Commission did not have authority over all of the things they were bringing up, such as Joens' suggestion that the Osceola County Board of Supervisors move to a three-member board instead of a five-member board.

Joens also pointed out that according to the most current articles on file with the state, the Public Safety Commission was supposed to have 10 members on its board, rather than the nine it currently has.

The commissioners told Joens the articles had been amended years ago and the 10th member position eliminated, but Joens said the amendment was never filed with the state.