The decision will affect departmental budgets for the next two decades.
“We spend $1,300 to $1,400 on our radios now, in a bad year, but with the new system, we’ve been told it will be about $15,000 a year,” Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority Executive Director Richard Garland warned his board.
That’s far from set in stone, however, as an extended discussion last week between Rome, Cave Spring and Floyd County officials made clear.
Floyd County Manager Blaine Williams presented a spreadsheet that divided the projected long-term cost based on how many radios each agency has assigned.
City Manager John Bennett countered with a proposal that balances the number of radios against the land-area where the users operate. Rome’s annual contribution would be essentially cut in half under the plan.
“The cities are only about 5 percent of the land area, and the cost of the maintenance is driven by the fact that we have 10 towers,” Bennett said.
Williams noted that a pro rata division of the expenses was part of the application submitted for review to the SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee.
Construction of the 800 megahertz digital trunking system is being funded through a $26.7 million earmark in the 2009 special purpose, local option sales tax package.
It will have a warranty through 2019 when it comes online early next year, but an expected lifespan through at least 2033.
Dividing the costs
County Commissioner Garry Fricks said Rome may be smaller than the unincorporated area, but its police and other agencies field more calls for service.
“We went down the road with the assumption it would be done pro rata. … because we had concerns (the price would rise for others) every time someone dropped out,” he said.
Cave Spring Mayor Rob Ware also raised the issue that has traditionally divided city and county leaders: city residents also pay county taxes. Using city and county funds equally could amount to double taxation.
“We only need one or two towers,” Rome Mayor Evie McNiece agreed. “The cities can not be taxed twice.”
But Williams said the state-of-the art system functions as a whole, and the radios used by Rome and Cave Spring departments can not be isolated.
“You are paying for your radio system to operate,” he said. “It’s not the county’s responsibility to pay for city agency operations.”
Officials present agreed to Assistant County Manager Noah Simon’s suggestion of a seminar on how the system works before conducting any further cost-sharing negotiations.
Plans are for County Emergency Management Director Scotty Hancock and a representative from TUSA Consulting to make a presentation to the three elected boards. The session is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9.
With both governments, and the schools, strapped for cash, the division of costs is just one part of the problem.
Funding the costs
McNiece said another two-tenths of a mill on the property tax rate or a 911 add-on fee to phone lines are two possibilities for raising the money. Part of the costs also could be offset by leasing space on the towers.
County Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell said the board talked with local lawmakers about getting the Georgia General Assembly to raise the $1.50-per-month cap on 911 add-on fees.
A snag, however, is that state law requires revenue from the fee to fully fund 911 operations and set aside a 10 percent reserve. At this point, the 911 Center costs more to run than the revenue from the add-on fee.
Williams said an additional 75 cents to $1 a month per line would likely cover the full cost to the public. The other, private users — Berry and Georgia Highlands colleges and the Redmond and Floyd hospitals’ emergency medical services — would not be able to benefit from any government levy.
The Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia are both lobbying to have the cap lifted, Bennett said, and Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed a study committee to look into it.