Commissioners discuss funding for south Berrien County communications tower

Published 2:16 pm Thursday, October 14, 2021

ST. JOSEPH – $5 million of funding earmarked in the new fiscal year 2022 state budget for a new communications tower in the south county will go a long way to pay the project, Berrien County Commissioner Jim Curran reported at Thursday’s county board meeting.

Curran represents Niles Township on the county board. He and County Administrator Brian Dissette praised State Sen. Kim LaSata for securing the funding in the new state budget.

“I want to commend Sen. LaSata, she hit a home run,” Dissette said.

Curran agreed.

“It’s awesome we got this, now we can make it happen,” he said.

The new 800 MHz frequency communications tower is needed to improve communications in the southern part of the county and on both sides of the Indiana-Michigan state line. The new tower will replace one at Bertrand Crossing.

“This new tower will help will provide additional support to law enforcement and other first responders across Berrien County,” LaSata said in a press release about the funding last month.

Curran told fellow commissioners Thursday that the cost estimate for the new tower has gone up. County officials previously anticipated that the cost of the new tower would be $6 million, he said now they believe that it will cost $7.8 million.

Taking into consideration the $5 million the county will get from the state, Curran said commissioners now have to decide how to come up with the extra $2.8 million to cover the total cost. He said county officials are looking now at either using part of the $30 million the county is getting in American Rescue Plan Act funds or raising fees.

“I don’t want to raise fees for this,” Curran said. “We may have to raise those fees for other expenses coming up. This is probably a discussion we need to have as a full board about using ARPA funds for the $2.8 million.”

He said that Berrien County 9-1-1 Director Caitlin Sampsell has told the county board’s administration committee that it’s important to move ahead with preliminary work on the project now even though actual construction is months away.

Dissette agreed, noting current supply chain issues throughout the country.

“I will get Caitlin to present at a future committee-of-the-whole meeting to address how supply chain issues are affecting everything,” he said.

He noted that the Motorola company is the county’s only option to do the project and spoke about the next steps. After the committee-of-the-whole presentation, he said the matter will go to the board’s finance committee and the full county board for a waiver to go with Motorola as the single source and contract with them.

Dissette described the lead time on design and construction of the project as “pretty lengthy.”

“It will be a year to a year and a half before this project is completed if we act this month,” he said.

In other action Thursday, Commissioners approved a user agreement with Smartsheets to improve COVID and other data tracking internally in the county as well as with other entities such as public schools and Spectrum Lakeland. Dissette said the new system is cloud-based and allows multiple organizations to input data.