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Rincon not ready to signal its help on radio tower
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Rincon City Council members expressed their desire to remedy the problems plaguing public safety communications — but they also said they want to see just how committed the county is.

Council members tabled a request from Effingham County to take part in the upgrades needed for the south communications tower, wanting to hear more details from the county.

The county has asked Rincon to provide $80,000 toward the south tower work and for the city to accomplish the work on its own, just for its own fire and police communications, would cost about $103,000.

“It is going to be expensive,” Rincon City Manager Wesley Corbitt said.

Corbitt said the city could pay only when the tower is complete and operational.

Installation of the equipment for the tower could cost approximately $531,000, with additional infrastructure work pegged at more than $93,000. An annual service agreement for the existing tower is around $40,000, and another $75,000 would be needed for annual service on the proposed equipment.

Bringing all the communications towers up to par could cost about $1.9 million, according to Corbitt.

“Either we do it ourselves for $103,000 or we partner with the county for $80,000 or we do nothing and have an issue with communication,” said Mayor Ken Lee. “Our concern is for the safety of our officers and firefighters.”

The licenses for the frequencies at the south tower have elapsed and new licenses for those frequencies aren’t available.

Wade Britt of Motorola said county EMA director Ed Myrick has met with Federal Communications Commission representatives in Atlanta, and a plan is being devised that will license 20 channels to Effingham County.

“The fault of the licensing has nothing to do with anyone in Effingham County,” Britt said. “The radio frequencies were re-licensed in South Carolina, and because of the proximity, we could not use those frequencies.”

Two of the seven frequencies in use also are used by Charleston County, S.C., Britt explained.

“With these new frequencies, they won’t be shared by anybody nearby,” he said.

There was good coverage from the south tower, until it had to be turned off to comply with the FCC, Britt said. Under the new channels planned for Effingham, five will be built at the south tower and five more will be installed at the tower at the landfill.

“We’re going to replicate that with the different frequencies,” he said.

The Effingham County Fire Department was awarded a 2009 Assistance to Firefighters grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a regional communication project.

“The state wants frequencies shared on a regional basis,” Britt said. “In southeast Georgia, we’ve gotten some of the largest grants in the nation, all because we have taken a regional approach.”

The goal, Britt said, is to have seven channels at all three sites, under a state plan approved by the FCC. Once ordered, the equipment would take approximately six weeks to be delivered.

Corbitt asked if the county could get the frequencies needed.

“They believe they can get this done by September,” he said. “It may take as much as a year to do this.”

The plan would not address the north tower or the capacity for every user in the county, according to Britt.

Britt and Rincon Fire Chief Corey Rahn checked on the coverage areas.

“We expected there to be problems,” Britt said. “The problems were with the hand-held radios. We don’t have a problem with the mobile radios.”

Rincon Police Chief Phillip Scholl outlined his concerns back in March to county commissioners about the communications problems. He said he didn’t want to send his officers into a situation where they only had their cell phones available.

Council member Paul Wendelken said he had “multiple issues” with the county’s request.

“Do we really think the county is not going to do anything until we pay $80,000?” he said. “We’re going down a precedent-setting path. I hope not, but it sure sounds that way. I’m not convinced we need to do this. I think it needs to be done, but I don’t know if it needs to be us.”

“I’m for fixing it,” said council member Frank Owens. “I don’t like the reason behind it. It wasn’t Rincon’s fault the tower went down. I care about everybody in the county, but if it will save one person in Rincon…. We need more details. I think everybody is willing to work with them.”