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Niles could see new 911 consoles

Published 6:45pm Thursday, June 21, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County and Niles officials are enthused about an unexpected grant opportunity to replace outmoded 911 radio consoles at their dispatch centers.

Niles serves as Berrien’s back-up center, but equipment between the two is generally incompatible for communicating during large disasters.

The proposed increase Aug. 7 in the 911 emergency system operation millage did not include funding for capital costs of the planned replacement of these public safety communications components.

Last week, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the Department of Homeland Security, opened a one-month window to accept 2012 Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) that will provide regional funding of up to $1 million with a 20 percent cash match by local government for interoperable dispatch center communications systems for populations Berrien County’s size.

“This wasn’t on my radar three days ago,” County Administrator Bill Wolf advised the Administration Committee Thursday. “We didn’t realize the possibility of this grant was out there, moving our way. But it is an opportunity because we have a need to upgrade the consoles, not only in our dispatch center, but also those in Niles, which are even older than ours. We left capital needs unaddressed when you approved the millage request for operations.”

The current budgetary figure for upgrading the two dispatch centers with the latest digital Motorola MCC 7500 Internet Protocol (IP)-based radio console systems over the Michigan Public Safety Communications Systems (MPSCS) network is $1,219,081.

The full Board of Commissioners will be asked June 28 to support a DHS/FEMA AFG application, which is due by July 6, by Niles City Fire Department on behalf of the city and county, which is not to exceed $250,000 in required cash matching funds from the county MSP 800MHz Credit Reimbursement Fund.

If Niles City Council authorizes the fire department to apply, the Board of Commissioners agrees to let Niles act as grant administrator and fiduciary.

Wolf said the Credit Reimbursement Fund resulted from every one of hundreds of 800MHz radios paying $200 annually to the state.

“For things we do to improve our system, we get a 50 percent credit against this fee. Over the last five years, this fund financed the $380,000 tower by the jail. Right now, there’s about $100,000 available. Every year, we get about $150,000. If we get this grant, it’s too good to pass up,” Wolf said.

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