On Tuesday, the Alachua County Commission overwhelmingly approved spending $8 million to purchase a trunked radio system from Gainesville Regional Utilities. The acquisition is contingent on approval from the Gainesville City Commission. This agreement has the potential to end a contentious disagreement over the administration of a system vital to emergency services.
The enormous public safety radio system will be transferred to Alachua County government on October 1 following the conditions of a contract negotiated by county and city personnel. “I think this provides us with the stability that our countywide users need, including all of the citizens of Gainesville,”
Commissioner Ken Cornell from the county remarked. The ARPA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds will be well spent, in my opinion. I’m relieved that municipal employees and county employees appear to share common goals. All users’ payments under the agreement are guaranteed to remain stable at a flat rate for the duration of the contract’s five years.
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At that time, GRU will shell out $820,000, while the city of Gainesville as a whole will shell out around $4 million. Chief Harold Theus of the Alachua County Fire Rescue stated on Tuesday that he had signed five-year contracts with the majority of the system’s other users.
“With the income that that’s going to bring in, we will be able to purchase the radio system, we will be able to expand the radio system without financing anything, and still maintain an operating cost that we are currently paying for the radio system, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million per year,” Theus said.
On Thursday, however, the Gainesville City Commission will vote on whether or not to approve the sale. In December, Gainesville Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos voiced his opposition to the sale, saying he did not “believe it’s in the best interest of the city to sell it.”
“Selling off the entire trunked radio system is a substantial part of our telecommunications, and it would have to go to the voters,” he said.
Yet, since then City Hall has run into financial difficulties, and top officials are prepared to make significant layoffs across a number of ministries. Several lawmakers have threatened to have Gov. Ron DeSantis remove commissioners from office if they do not take strong action. On Tuesday, Lewis Walton, the chief business services officer at GRU, told the county commissioners that he is certain that the two parties have a “mutually beneficial agreement in place that preserves public safety.”
In the event that the city commission does not accept the sale, Alachua County will immediately begin working on its own radio system, as stated in a motion passed on Tuesday. In theory, the new system may render Gainesville’s radio system unnecessary by attracting other agencies who find it more cost-effective to go over to it.
One local homeowner voiced concern about the $3.7 million net book value of the system as of December 31, 2022, during public comment. But according to Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby, even if the agreed-upon sum is higher than the net book value, it would cost the county more to reproduce the same system or construct a new one.
He also assured the county commissioners that, thanks to the terms of the deal, Motorola will be updating the system every two years. “We know that we’re getting current technology,” he said.