To the Editor:
In response to the article published last week by Maylon Rice in the Washington County Enterprise Leader, I would like to correct some of the inaccurate information he provided. I often read articles like this and just shake my head and mumble to myself, but this time I feel obligated to respond.
Mr. Rice refers to this project as a "scheme that has yet to be developed or has no fixed price tag." Well this couldn't be further from the truth. There has been a group of local responders including police, fire and EMS that have put in countless hours, most of them volunteering their own time, studying what is the best possible radio system for Washington County emergency responders to use. These meetings have been going on for well over a year now, so to call this plan a "scheme" is absurd. He points out that there is no fixed price tag on the project. He may say that this statement is true, however, what he doesn't point out is that there has been a consistent cost estimate provided publicly on numerous occasions for what this project will cost. The project will be made up of a number of pieces to include: radio equipment needed for the four tower sites, equipped to integrate with neighboring communication systems, radio consoles for EMS and Sheriff's Office dispatch centers, mobile and portable radios to be used in emergency vehicles by first responders and law enforcement. The towers could require the need for acquisition of property which could result in the need to construct a roadway to access the tower, at this time no access issues are foreseen. These sites will require utilities such as electric and possibly natural gas for power and backup power. Mr. Rice's term "wiggle room" and "poor details" can and have been explained if he were to have attended the public meetings held where the issue of the needed radio system was covered.
He refers to this as a "Pig-in-a-poke" which couldn't be further from the truth. The county is proposing joining the existing AWIN (Arkansas Wireless Information Network) Radio System. This is a proven radio system that is referred to as the "State Radio System" that agencies such as Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Game and Fish and countless other local emergency service providers across the state and here in Northwest Arkansas are already using.
His reference to "possibly illegal use of tax monies" is simply preposterous. The money from the 1/4th of one penny sales tax will be used to fund a new radio system for Washington County emergency services. There are numerous safeguards in place to regulate the spending of our tax dollars, some set by the State of Arkansas others in place by Washington County government. All purchases for the system will use existing state awarded contracts or will be publicly bid by Washington County.
I'm not sure exactly what he is talking about when claiming that there will be money given to various departments "....privately funded organizations - for their operations." But I can confidently say that this is not the case. Equipment will be purchased and owned by Washington County the equipment can and will be used by approved emergency service providers within Washington County.
He mentions that the Sheriff's Office has a radio system in place that needs some upgrades. The sheriff's office shares a common radio system with small-town police departments, Central EMS, volunteer fire departments, emergency management, coroners office and Search and Rescue. I point this out to show that all these services collectively use the failing system and all need the new radio system. He even includes the "loose network of first responders." I'm pretty thick-skinned but to refer to any Washington County emergency responder as a "loose network" really angers me because I know how much our responders risk and give of themselves daily for the citizens of Washington County. Washington County has the best network of first responders in the state if not the nation. I can only assume that a comment like this could come from someone who is totally out of touch with what is and has been going on in Washington County over the last couple of decades. Emergency service providers within Washington County are highly respected across the state and in the region because of their willingness to proactively work together and support one another at all times.
Now back to the topic of the radio system that "needs some upgrades." This is the main problem with the current radio system, upgrades are no longer available, the system is no longer supported by the manufacturer - a decision the manufacturer made, not Washington County. There are no new parts for the current tower sites, and no new radios for our responders. The existing radio system cannot be improved, cannot be fixed if damaged and must be replaced.
Now the facts about the Sales Tax question on the ballot. The tax will be 1/4 of 1 percent, or one penny for every four dollars spent. Not only for every dollar that we spend but every dollar that the visitors coming to Washington County to attend events such as Bikes Blues and BBQ, Razorback sporting events, or simply someone traveling through Washington County. This will allow everyone that is a potential user of Washington County emergency services to help fund the new radio system. The tax is for a period of one year. It will only be collected for 12 months, then it stops and cannot be renewed or continued. The revenue from this tax can and will only be used to fund the equipment, construction and maintenance of the new communication system.
Mr. Rice makes the comment that "haste makes waste." I can assure you that there has been no haste in this decision. Countless hours of meetings, researching, and planning over the past couple years have gone into the decision of what will be the best system today and for many years to come. It will provide needed increased coverage, reliability, and interoperability for all responders in Washington County.
With that said there is an issue of urgency, our current system is at end of life and could fail us at any moment causing an immediate negative impact that will affect all of Washington County. A new system will take between 12 and 18 months to construct and bring fully online. That's a year and a half of hoping and praying that we don't suffer a lighting strike which could leave us with extremely limited emergency communications until the new system is online.
Please vote YES on the 1/4-cent sales tax for emergency communications, by doing so you are supporting your first responders and the safety of all the citizens of Washington County.
Prairie Grove Fire ChiefEditorial on 02/26/2020
Print Headline: Proposal For Sales Tax Result Of Year-Long Study By First Responders