Kneehill County council approved a budget amendment that bumps funding up to over $900,000 for an emergency radio system upgrade.
The decision was made at the June 23 regular meeting of council.
A presentation was made to council by staff members Debra Grosfield, manager of Protective Services and Dan Marsellus, rural fire chief, regarding the upgrading of the emergency communications system.
“In August 2019, the request for proposals for emergency communications system upgrade was issued for an assessment on our current situation,” stated the agenda memo.
“The results had shown areas of poor coverage in all of the fire districts, and county-wide problems with communications on fire scenes, potentially putting our first responders at risk.
“The consoles in the tower buildings for 9-1-1 emergencies are from 2001 and 2008, putting some long past their replacement life span of 12 years.
“Following the assessment of the system, a request for decision was taken to council in March 2020 to move forward with a request for proposals for a ‘digital emergency communications system with AFRRCS option.”
Staff noted in their memo and presentation that the upgrade project aimed to modernize the communications system, eliminate dead zones and make it easier to work with other organizations that use different systems, among other reasons.
The memo noted a substantial budget amendment would be necessary to move forward with the upgrade.
“Council to authorize a budget amendment of capital project #B1943 from $310,000 to $960,250 with funds from Hamlet Reserve,” stated the staff recommendation.
Staff clarified that $310,000 was already budgeted for the upgrade and with the new quote, a further $650,250 was needed to move forward and that this figure was not budgeted.
Coun. Ken King stated it’s possible the project could cost even more if a new tower was needed in Trochu.
Chief Marsellus noted that, yes, it’s possible the project could increase by up to $300,000 more if a new tower was needed.
Coun. Debbie Penner asked if any other fire departments brought this issue to their councils.
Chief Marsellus stated he had not heard anything.
King stated he was supportive of the reasoning behind the upgrade, but he was not supportive of spending this much money from the hamlet reserve.
Dep. Reeve Faye McGhee stated she agreed with King and wanted to hear from staff about where that much money could be found.
Director of Corporate Services Bill McKinnon spoke next, stating some money was available in the Contingency Reserves, about $1 million, but felt that the ‘Hamlet Reserve’ was probably the best way to go.
Reeve Jerry Whitstock asked if grants are available to offset the cost of this upgrade.
Chief Marsellus stated no, not much, and the existing equipment has some trade-in value, but not much of that either.
He stated bulk-purchasing was one option to reduce costs.
After an in-camera session where the emergency radio system was one of the items discussed, McKinnon stated based on further information about the lifespan of the project, he stated staff revised their recommendation on funding from various reserves, he recommended the $640,000 requested come from the Contingency Reserve.
Councillors unanimously voted to approve a budget amendment to a total of $960,250 for the emergency radio program plus the possible purchase/replacement of the Trochu tower.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter