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6.5 million dollars for radios????

December 28, 2018
By Adam Todd - News-Herald Guest View , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Six and a half million dollars is a lot of money. I think a lot of us Tama County citizens are taken aback by the staggering amount of money being requested by Mindy Benson and the E911 board for radios. I think I might speak for a good amount of people when I ask a few questions.

It's my understanding that the supervisors don't really have a say in this. I think the supervisors have done a really good job over many years at being fiscally responsible and I think they should be commended. I would praise Supervisors Anderson and Vest for suggesting, even requesting, this proposal to be bid on. I would ask Mindy Benson why not get bids?

I think the supervisors have done a good job. Unfortunately I think they are now put in a difficult position, they are not the ones seeking to redo the communications in Tama County, they are merely the ones who are going to have to write the check for what others are wanting/requesting.

Specifically it is the E911 board and Mindy Benson that are requesting the overhaul. I don't know Mindy Benson, and I don't know who is on the board, so this is nothing personal. I am sure they are all very nice people, but six and a half million dollars is a lot of money. Someone needs to be the bad guy and ask for a little more explanation than what we've gotten.

The supervisors were told that letting it out for bidding was not a requirement, but just because it isn't required doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Let it out for bids and independent analysis! Why are we so married to RACOM? The newspaper had an article concerning another company that seemed like they were begging to bid on the project. Why not let them? To quote the paper:

Ann Roth, a communications consultant for Electronic Engineering, Des Moines, outlined a Motorola Radio-based plan in connection with the Iowa Statewide Interoperable Communications System (ISICS) for the board.

Why are we not letting this company bid? Again, it's not up to the supervisors, it would be up to the E911 board. Why are we not seeking to get on the same system with the same radios that the entire state of Iowa is on? If it's a complete overhaul and the system can't continue to be patched up, lets start fresh with what the rest of the state has. The state will surely maintain and support it's own system. If we are starting from scratch lets start with the right stuff, the same stuff the State Troopers, DNR and IDOT are using. If Motorola won the bid for the state, why not let them bid on the county too? I know something has been said that the Motorola system doesn't support pagers, but I would like to hear Motorola say if they can support pagers or not. Seems crazy to think they would have a statewide system and they can't page volunteer services. Sure RACOM will say stuff like that, but why not ask Motorola in person?

Another question- what's the hurry now? We first heard the radio towers were going to need to be replaced in October, now all of a sudden the Supervisors have a request for 6.5 million dollar complete overhaul on their desks that they pretty much have to approve because they are mandated to provide communications. Can't we slow this thing down a notch and let some of us normal citizens have some time to ask some questions? I think the E911 board needs some accountability and needs to justify themselves just a little bit. Everyone can agree that our first responders are awesome at what they do and need to be supported, because we are talking life and death, but all I am asking is-- is it possible to do it for 3 million or 4 million? Could we do it better? Would we be better off on the same system as the State of Iowa? It's my understanding the State already has a tower here in the county, why can't we share that one with them? What does the DOT or the State Patrol use when they go through Tama County, why can't we bounce off their system? Maybe RACOM is the best, but let's find out. Who's to say new technology won't come out next year and make our system obsolete? What's next for communications? It's only a matter of time before cellular systems and broadband systems catch up to radio-based communication, are we going to get our 6.5 million back out of the towers by then? Six and a half million dollars is a lot of money.

I'm still a little confused as to who gets to say our system needs completely overhauled? It's fine if it does, but I didn't realize it was so bad. I'm about as far south in Tama County as you will get and I listen on my scanner to the deputies all the time talking in Traer. Obviously hills are going to affect radio transmissions, but will a new system work through hills? Do we get a guarantee? 50 Years ago people were talking to other countries with HAM radios, and now we can't talk from Lincoln to Toledo for less than 6.5 Million? That's a lot of money.

It seems almost harsh to say, but are the people pushing for a 6.5 million dollar expenditure the ones who are going to pay for it the rest of their life? I am not going anywhere. I am tied to Tama County. I love Tama County. I am here to stay forever. I need Tama County to make wise decisions, cause I'll be paying for it, and so will my kids. It might be harsh to say, but sometimes I see very well- meaning people with good intentions convince towns and counties to spend millions of dollars on honorable worthwhile projects, or build schools, or build civic buildings, or buy expensive equipment, and then before you know it they've moved on to greener pastures and bigger cities, and better paying jobs, but the normal citizens are still here, stuck with the bills and bonds paying them off with no option of leaving the county for greener pastures. I love having elected officials that are tied to the place they represent and won't leave anytime soon.

I get nervous about well-meaning people asking for taxpayer money- are they going to stay around forever with me to endure the bills? Six and a half million dollars is a lot of money. I'm happy to invest it in Tama County, but it sure would be nice to know it is necessary and to know it's our best option. It would stink if our new system was outdated before we even get it paid off. There's got to be professionals with big time college degrees that could give an independent analysis and evaluation of our communication and the changing future. If we go and ask RACOM if we should buy something from them, it's a no brainer that they are going to tell us - 'yes, buy this 6.5 million dollar system.' It's like asking a car salesman if you need a new car. Of course they are going to say yes. I'm sure people requesting money have personal preferences on which brand of car to buy, but I think the taxpayers deserve to get bids from all the major brands, not just one person's favorite.

I think Mindy Benson needs to get bids on this thing. It would only be the right thing to do to honor the request of the supervisors. We elected fiscally conservative and responsible supervisors, obviously that's what Tama county wants. I think we deserve it in this situation as well.

I think our system needs to be independently audited and evaluated by a person who has a lot of degrees, diplomas or experience dealing with rural communications. There's got to be more options than saying our "radios are broken", then just going to RACOM and buying whatever they're selling.

I think Ann Roth and Electronic Engineering/Motorola needs to evaluate if we can piggyback on to the same system the State of Iowa just built, and how much it would cost.

I think it's way too fast to assert we need to build a new system in the last quarter of one year then expect the money in the first quarter of the next year. I think this thing needs to slow way down. Six and a half million dollars is a lot of money.

Maybe it will work out that RACOM is the best option, then again maybe we could do it for half that. For a system we'll have to pay for and put up with for the next 20-30 years I think we can manage to think about it for more than 2 or 3 months.



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