To lease or not to lease?

Commissioners table decision which some say would solve county communication issues

OSCEOLA COUNTY – At their last regularly scheduled session, the Osceola County Board of Commissioners decided to hold off on a decision to let Meceola Central Dispatch lease the county’s south radio tower pending additional details. The 25-year $1 lease would allow Meceola Central Dispatch to control maintenance and repairs on the tower which is used by dispatch, police, EMS, fire and Emergency Management departments within the county. Laurie Smalla, Director of Meceola Central Dispatch said Meceola gaining control of the towers in both Mecosta and Osceola counties would aid the department in securing grant funding in the future. “Because we’re a two-county 911 system, we’re a lot more apt to get grant money if we control the towers in both counties,” Smalla said. “We want to consolidate it and get the system under one umbrella so we can start working on one long-term plan to expand and make our system better.” During past meetings, commissioners along with Emergency Management director Mark Watkins have discussed the fact that communication issues concerning the tower’s maintenance often arise within the county. When the tower needs repair or maintenance issues arise, there is no clear authority as to which entity should contract with the vendor to fix the tower, between the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department, Board of Commissioners, Emergency Management Department and fire services. As a result of the lack of communication, a variety of different vendors have worked on the tower and unnecessary complications have been created within the county. Watkins recommended the board make a plan to solve those issues before entering into the lease agreement. “I would like to see a little bit more of a long-term plan. I think we’re moving a little bit too fast and there are a lot of questions right now,” Watkins said. “I completely understand you want to alleviate the repair issues, but understand there are more aspects to (consider.)” Commissioner Mark Brock said the fire association also may have concerns with the lease. Brock represents the county on the Meceola Central Dispatch Board of Authority and reported 10 months ago that Meceola was assembling legal paperwork for a proposal to lease radio towers in both Mecosta and Osceola Counties. Mecosta County Board of Commissioners approved allowing Meceola to lease their two towers at a meeting July 5, a decision which Smalla said is long overdue. “This should have been done 20 years ago when they formed a dual county 9-1-1 system,” Smalla said. “I’m sure at that time, they didn’t include those towers because they didnt know if the 9-1-1 center would have money to maintain them. It has been 20 years. Things are moving forward. We need to move our system forward and we can’t do anything unless those are under our jurisdiction.” Smalla estimates the lease will save Osceola County $10,000 a year in maintenance, repair, electrical bills and other costs of the tower. She agrees that there are communication issues within Osceola County and said the lease also would solve that problem by making Meceola Central Dispatch Board of Authority - which has representatives from each county - the governing board in charge of the tower. Osceola County Emergency Medical Services Directory Ed Nettle said he recommends the tower infrastructure be turned over to Meceola Central Dispatch for a centralized management and control. Nettle is the vice chairman of the Meceola technology committee and serves on the Radio Infrastructure Steering Committee along with three other representatives from Osceola County. “The lease will eliminate all miscomunications between counties, the 9-1-1 center, and agencies involved by having one centralized board,” said Emergency Medical Services Director Ed Nettle. “It’s going to give better commanding control.” Small agrees that the commanding control should go to Meceola. “It all comes back to, we are the communication system, therefore we should have control of the communications infrastructure,” Smalla said.“Frankly, it’s really confusing to us why some people are against it.” At the Osceola County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 3, Brock made a motion to approve the lease. After discussion among commissioners and input from Watkins, Brock withdrew the motion. Watkins was asked to attend a 9-1-1 Authority Board meeting on July 9 to gain more information. The lease will be discussed at a future meeting. In other business, the board; n appointed Karen Bluhm, county clerk, as the MERS representative to attend a conference Oct. 3 to 5; n approved the purchase of a copier from Advanced Business Machines for the Osceola County Commission on Aging for $4,938. The money will come from the COA budget and will allow copies to be made for seven cents per sheet; n appointed Dave Johns in place of Judge Menezes to the Mecosta Osceola Transit Authority board for the remainder of the term after Menezes schedule did not allow him to hold the position.