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JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County's 911 board wants to install a more effective communications system for first responders but is asking the county and its municipalities to pay the recurring maintenance fees.

Steve Lamb, a Marion 911 board member, said a Federal Communications Commission mandate to "narrow-band" the county's radio system has caused a lot of trouble with coverage.

"Over the last several years, 911 has gone through extensive testing and replacing of equipment to try and improve the situation," Lamb said. "Nothing resolved the situation. Narrow-banding reduced the effective range of VHF radios."

Now the 911 board wants to upgrade to a digital system, which nearby Sequatchie County and Marion's private ambulance service already uses.

"It's unbelievable the improvements that we've come up with from this," Lamb said.

Under the plan, Marion 911 would buy all the equipment needed for every county and municipal law enforcement officer and pay for installing it.

"For the fire departments, we can't afford full coverage, but we are going to provide two [mobile radios] and two hand-helds for each fire department in the county," Lamb said. "We're looking at making an investment of $336,016. That's a fluid number. It might go up or down $1,000 as we get the final count, but we have the money to make this purchase and put this system in for the county."

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Marion 911 can't pay for the yearly maintenance fee, though, which costs $108 per radio, so it will be asking each city and the county to pay part of the cost.

For example, the Jasper would have to pay a yearly fee of $2,376 for its radios.

"I think that's a small price for us when officers are involved, especially in this day and time," Jasper Mayor Paul Evans said.

Officials said the biggest gains from the new system would be clear transmissions, automatic selection of the nearest broadcast tower, and GPS tracking on all police vehicles.

Jasper Police Chief Billy Mason said the town doesn't have GPS tracking on its police cars right now.

"This [system] comes with it," he said. "You're actually not spending that much money, and you're getting GPS that we don't have now. There's all kinds of benefits to this."

Jasper Alderman Leon Rash praised the 911 board for "springing for this expense."

"It's a major upgrade for us, and we really do appreciate it," he said.

Lamb and other 911 board members will be visiting local government meetings as well as the Marion County Commission this month to introduce the plan and answer questions.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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