LEESBURG -- Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals said assurances by Lee commissioners that emergency personnel in the county would get an 800-megahertz radio system eased his concerns about the purpose of a special called commission meeting Thursday, but he still questioned the timing of the meeting.
"I feel a little better about things now that they've said they still plan to get us that emergency radio system and I've talked with them about it further," Rachals said after the afternoon meeting. "But if they were going to get a consultant involved, it looks like they would have done that before now. This seems like a setback.
"We've been trying to get this system in place for two years now. It seems like if (the commission) planned to get a consultant to look at it, they would have done it when they approved the funding. Now we're another step from moving forward with this, and it's something we need now."
County Administrator Tony Massey said he and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy had recently met with Atlanta-based TUSA Consulting officials to discuss a $1.749 million proposal to install the 800-megahertz system that would improve communications among emergency responders in the county.
"TUSA is a reputable firm -- we checked them out thoroughly -- and our proposal today is to hire them to analyze our existing radio system, do a needs assessment of the community, evaluate the vendor proposal we have and look at our regional communications capabilities," Massey said. "That's 100 hours of work at $145 an hour.
"We expect them to report back to us at our (Sept. 13) work session."
Duffy said the board decided to talk with a consultant to make sure the county was getting "the most bang for our buck" when purchasing the emergency radio system.
"I speak for myself, and I think I do for the board as well, when I say I just don't have the knowledge to evaluate a system of this kind," Duffy said. "It certainly is in the best interest of the community to make sure we're making the right decision here."
Commissioner Rick Muggridge said the commission had not altered its plan to purchase the emergency system for first responders.
"We're talking about an investment that's going to impact this community for years to come," he said. "This unbiased opinion (from TUSA) will help us. We've already approved this expenditure, and we've approved getting a tax-anticipation loan to make the purchase before SPLOST VI kicks in (in 2013).
"We think it's a good idea to get direction from an expert."
Massey said hiring the consultant constitutes "due diligence" on the county's part.
"We have a proposal on the table, but before we spend $1,749,000, we need to make sure it's the best thing for the county," the administrator said. "We're going to buy a new system, but we're going to do our due diligence first."
Rachals, meanwhile, said he'd like to get the system in place as soon as possible.
"We'll see what the outcome of this (decision) is," he said. "But this is too important an issue to public safety personnel to let it keep dragging along. Our folks need this system to protect the citizens of this community."