For years, Benton County deputies heading to emergencies in western stretches couldn’t be certain if anyone could hear their radio calls.
That is likely about to change.
Benton County commissioners agreed to spend $2.5 million in public safety sales tax money for a new radio tower, with the hopes of connecting the deputies patrolling Benton City and Horn Rapids areas with supervisors and dispatchers.
“We’ve been working for a lot of years with this vulnerability out there,” Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said. “We’ve had way too many incidents that have come really close to somebody getting hurt, so I really appreciate this.”
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The move will make police work safer for deputies and firefighters, and by extension the public that relies on them in emergencies, Commissioner Shon Small said.
The resolution that commissioners passed Tuesday is the latest step in a process that started more than four years ago when county officials hired Motorola Solutions to study the gaps in the county’s radio coverage. The Chicago-based company provides systems for government agencies across the nation as well as the local dispatch system.
The Motorola study confirmed what deputies already knew: When they were in Benton City or heading toward Horn Rapids, radio communications were spotty.
Benton County Emergency Services knew there was a problem but didn’t have the money to add a new tower. At the time, the company predicted it would cost $1.9 million, including getting access to land.
That estimate has grown to $2.5 million in the past four years, Deputy County Administrator Loretta Smith Kelty said.
While they were able to make some changes to improve connections, the problems persisted, making a new tower on Red Mountain necessary, Small said.
The project became feasible when the county collected more money than expected from a 2014 voter-approved public safety sales tax, which added three cents to most $10 taxable sales in the county.
The commissioners already agreed to spend $2.4 million on a series of 11 programs in September as a way of decreasing the reserve to $9.5 million.
When construction on the tower would start is still up in the air.
Benton’s emergency services, which operates the dispatch center, SECOMM, recently finished its consolidation with Franklin County’s dispatch. Officials haven’t begun to process how a new tower would fit into its system,
While Small and Hatcher have gotten the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area to sign off on allowing a new radio tower, they’re still working on getting land owners to let them use the land.
Negotiations with the land owners have stalled, Small said.
“The sheriff and I are still working with the owner of that site,” he said. “We feel very confident that he will definitely agree that public safety is paramount.”
Even with a quick agreement from the land owner, building the tower is likely going to take around eight months, according to Motorola estimates.