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Serious money

By Staff | Feb 14, 2011

Christmas might be long past, so Faribault County officials are calling it a Valentine’s Day gift.

And, it is a big one.

On Wednesday, officials in Blue Earth received word that the county is being awarded an $832,400 Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) Federal Fire Act grant.

The funds will be used to purchase new 800 megahertz radios for all of the fire departments and ambulance services in Faribault County.

“This is tremendous news,” Faribault County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Scott Adams says. “We are extremely excited to find out we are getting this grant.”

Adams helped draft the grant application, but it was all done through the Blue Earth Fire Department. They are acting as the fiscal agency for the grant. The county itself could not apply, as it has to be done through a fire department.

Adams explains that the money will be used for radios throughout the county, not just in Blue Earth. And, none of the funds will be for law enforcement radios.

“We already have received several grants for the radios for police and sheriff’s deputies,” Adams says. “This one is strictly for firemen and EMTs.”

The radios are not cheap. However, Adams says the good news is that they are now less expensive than two years ago.

“They were about $5,000 apiece for a mobile (squad car) radio, and $3,000 for a handheld radio,” he says. “Now they are about $2,700 for a mobile and $2,000 for a handheld one.”

The county agencies originally applied for a grant of $902,000, Adams says. Two months ago they were contacted and asked if they would accept a lower figure. They said yes.

“When the federal government first mandated we go to 800 megahertz, we figured the cost for Faribault County would be around $4.2 million,” Adams says. “We expected some grants, but we also thought the county might have to bond to pay for it.”

Now, that won’t be the case. Adams says with all the grant money they have received, plus the lower cost of the radios, they are only short between $50,000 and $60,000 to cover all of the costs.

“The state also paid for two radio towers in the county,” he says. “They are being installed at no cost to the county.”

What has not yet been covered is the cost of radios for county and city public works departments. Those expenses might have to be covered by the local government units themselves.

“But, you never know,” Adams says. “We might find grant money for them also.”

UHD hospital will also be switching to the new radio system. Those costs are not covered, either, except for the ambulance service.

Adams says the mandate is to have the switch over complete by 2013. With the latest grant, he expects Faribault County will now be able to make the switch during the summer of 2012.

When it is in place, radios will work clearly across the county. Currently there are many places where radios, especially the handhelds, don’t work at all, Adams says.

“The grant also covers a systems upgrade for paging equipment in the sheriff’s office,” Adams says. “With it, we can send out a page to the Kiester Fire Department, for instance, and the firemen can hear it anywhere in the county.”