MADISON — Madison County Sheriff Todd Volk and representatives of most of the county’s police departments met Tuesday with the county board to discuss the need for a new radio communication system that would cost slight more than $1 million.
Volk said that going back to the previous sheriff, Vern Hjorth, the need to expand and upgrade the radios already had been identified.
That became especially noticeable during two recent events — flooding around the county in March and the armed stand-off in Norfolk on Sunday that involved several law enforcement agencies, he said.
Volk said part of the problem is that Madison County, the Norfolk Police Division and the Nebraska State Patrol have systems that aren’t compatible to communicate with each another except through a “patch.”
“That doesn’t always work,” he said.
In order to share information Sunday, a lot of the communication had to be done on cell phones, he said.
Commissioner Troy Uhlir and Volk sat in on a meeting the City of Norfolk had to consider joining the state radio system.
Ultimately, the goal is for all the agencies to be able to communicate with each other, which would be possible with a new state system that Motorola has developed.
Platte County and many counties already have joined the state system. In addition, Columbus has an office that can work on Motorola radios rather than having to send them off for repairs — as occurs now.
With just two of the three commissioners present at Tuesday’s meeting, the county board voted to postpone action on the request to join the statewide system and purchase new radios. It could be considered again as soon as later this month.
Commissioners said they would like to have Joe Smith, county attorney, review the contract and have Commissioner Christian Ohl, who was not at the meeting, review the proposal.
The contract calls for the purchase of the system, then an ongoing fee per radio that each police department and the county would pay.
Volk said part of the need for the new radio system is safety.
“We can’t communicate,” he said. “God forbid, it’s going to cost us one of our officer’s lives.”
The radio system also will help to protect the public, Volk said. The police chiefs in Madison, Battle Creek, Tilden, Newman Grove and the village marshal in Meadow Grove have discussed the proposal.
They also see the need for an upgrade, which also will help to get rid of “dead spots” in the county where there is no communication available, the sheriff said.
Madison County last upgraded its radio system in 2006-07, with help from a federal grant.
Volk said it was a good system at the time, but the technology the county has makes it seem like a John Deere B tractor.
“It’s chugging along. It’s doing good, but the equipment we have now ... is like a 24-row planter and that John Deere B can’t pull it,” he said.
Ron Schmidt, county board chairman, said he agrees there is a need to upgrade and improve communications.
Schmidt said he is concerned, however, that the county could have outdated equipment again in a few years. It appears the last time the county purchased new radios, it was almost old technology right away.
“I’m going to be really mad — maybe even a step above that — if we do something like that and I find out we are getting old technology,” Schmidt said.
Volk said this is the best technology out there and should handle the problems the county has. Volk said he also believes it will not become obsolete quickly.
The cost for the system would be about $1,032,000. The county will look at financing options, including throughout the Nebraska Association of County Officials.