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County OKs $630,000 police radio tower
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Liberty County Commission members gathered Tuesday for their monthly meeting to discuss ongoing business items on the agenda.
Chairman John McIver opened with comments about his recent trip to China with other area dignitaries.
“We had a very successful trip,” McIver said, although he acknowledged the endeavor didn’t go over well with many local residents. “Overall, I think the contact we made (over there) was very positive.”
He stressed that in Chinese culture, relationships must be established before entities or companies venture into business dealings, which is why it may take several trips before anything significant is accomplished.
In other meeting news, the commission approved a $630,940 proposal from Motorola to build a communications tower on the old airport site for updating public safety communications equipment.
The cost, which will be covered by SPLOST funds, includes building, erecting and supporting the tower, County Administrator Joey Brown said. To keep costs down, the Emergency Management Agency is donating its old generator — which is still in running condition — to the site.
The EMA will receive a new generator that will not shutdown during severe storms, a problem that has made daily operations difficult in the past, said Mike Hodges, EMA director.
Public Safety Communications director Thomas Wahl said that a modernized radio system for public safety communications is long overdue and will be a continuous project that is funded through various grants.
“The current (system) is well overtaxed,” said Wahl, who expects to receive more grant funding during the next few months to lessen the project’s dependency on taxpayers’ dollars.
In 2004, the FCC mandated that all public safety communication networks switch to narrowbanding operations by Jan. 1, 2013 to ensure reliable communications for first responders.
Wahl, who has worked for the public safety communications department for the past seven years, said the current system doesn’t allow for clear communications, leaving dispatchers with the task of deciphering the conversations of officers who are talking over one another.
He also said the signal is patchy throughout the county and, as an example, stated that officers called out to Yellow Bluff may not be able to use radio communications because the signals are so weak, leaving them in danger if a situation escalates.
“We desperately need it,” Wahl said of the upgrades. “It’s a safety issue in my opinion.”
Materials were ordered Wednesday and the tower project is expected to be completed in six months, Brown said.
Gabriele Hartage of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission also talked with county commissioners regarding revisions to the landscape and tree protection ordinance to regulate tree protection, planting and landscaping and to help cities strengthen their codes.
Hartage addressed the board last month about introducing changes to the ordinance that include more protection to trees that are in danger of being cut down and developer requirement to make government agencies aware of tree harvesting.  
Commissioner Eddie Walden motioned to table the ordinance until the board has an opportunity to further review the details and correct the sections, which will allow flexibility to developers while protecting land and trees accordingly.
“This ordinance is not ready to be voted on,” Walden said of the line of questions board members asked Hartage.
A group of Liberty County high school students involved in 4-H also made an appearance at the meeting. They introduced themselves to board members and made a brief presentation.
The five students, led by Terri Thompson, the club’s sponsor, each spoke about 4-H, a program that “prepares young people to step up to the challenges in their community and the world,” according to the 4-H website.
“Thank you for your continued support of our 4-H club,” Thompson said to the commissioners.
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