While continuing to protest that it's the result of an unfunded federal mandate, Moore County's Board of Commissioners have decided to move the County's Emergency Communications System to the VIPER [Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders] system developed by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
At their special budget work session on Thursday, May 5, they approved the Public Safety Department's recommendation to move forward with implementing the transition to VIPER, because of a Federal Communications Commission [FCC] mandate that requires emergency communicators to move from the current 512 megahertz [MHz] to a 12.5 [kHz] kilohertz narrowband by the beginning of 2013.
The Board did not settle on a plan for covering the estimated $5 million cost of the transition. Chairman Nick Picerno said he is “trying to find a way to pay for this without increasing the burden on taxpayers.”
The Board sent a resolution to Congressman Howard Coble, as well as Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan last month asking to be exempt from the mandate, but have had not response as yet.
Commissioner Larry Caddell asked Phillips about repercussions to the County if narrowbanding requirements are not met.
“It is an unfunded mandate," Caddell said, "What are they [federal government] going to do if we don’t?”
Phillips said the federal government can fine the county every single day that they are not in compliance — and can revoke the county's license to operate radios in the emergency bands.
Assistant County Manager Ken Larking presented the Board with four funding options, two of which would ask municipalities, which utilize the County's Emergency Communications System, to pick up part of the cost.
Under those scenarios, a small village like Foxfire would be responsible for paying anywhere from $9,000 to $18,000 for the narrowbanding system.
Phillips recommended instead that the County is to use money from the general fund instead of asking municipalities to pay or increasing the fire tax to cover part of the cost.
County Manager Cary McSwain said the project can be appropriated over several years as a major capital project ordinance.