Kimball alderman raises questions about problems with Marion County emergency services' communications system

Kimball alderman raises questions about problems with Marion County emergency services' communications system

February 17th, 2019 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News
Kimball Alderman Johnny Sisk listens during a December 2013 meeting.

Kimball Alderman Johnny Sisk listens during a December...

Photo by Ryan Lewis /Times Free Press.

KIMBALL, Tenn. — Two years ago, Marion County's 911 board set out to install a more effective digital VHF communications system for first responders.

Since then, the system has been fraught with problems in coverage, similar to the issues emergency services officials were experiencing with the previous "narrow-band" setup.

At the February meeting of the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the board approved a bill from Mobile Communications America in Chattanooga for $2,808, which is an annual maintenance fee the town has to pay for the system's equipment.

Every municipality in Marion pays $108 per radio needed for the system each year.

Before the vote, Alderman Johnny Sisk asked what would happen if the board voted to reject the annual fee.

Vice Mayor Jerry Don Case, who is also the Marion County 911 Director, said the town would have to get another radio system.

"Can you not go back to the other [narrow] band?" Sisk asked.

Case said Sisk would have to talk to Marion Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett to get that answer.

"I notice they're still having trouble," Sisk said. "I just worry about our [emergency services] people. That's what I worry about. [They're] out here in the community, and [the signal] covers certain spots, and certain spots they're in, they don't have any coverage."

Case said the county is in the process of installing a third radio transmitter that officials hope will clear up the system's remaining gaps.

"When they [the federal government] get the money for the wall [along the border with Mexico], they are, hopefully, going to let us continue with the license and stuff," he said.

City Attorney Billy Gouger said Marion 911 has been waiting for about four months for Federal Aviation Administration approval for a new tower site for that third transmitter.

"It got held up the last time because the government shut down," Gouger said. "We're still waiting. Everything has been approved except for that — for the FAA license."

Sisk said problems with the system have been going on for more than a year, and he's worried the delays might cause a serious incident for the county's first responders.

"We worry about the people, too," Case said. "That's the reason we're putting up the third repeater. You tell us how to speed it up, and I'll pass it forward."

In other business, the board is gearing up to consider lease renewal proposals in March from American Tower in Boston, Mass., and SBA Communications in Boca Raton, Fla., on a tower site that is jointly owned by Kimball and nearby Jasper, Tenn.

Officials did not release details of the proposals yet, but Gouger said they are "in line" with what other companies are paying currently for tower site leases.

"Of course, it will have to be discussed and done at some point in conjunction with the town of Jasper because it is a mutual lease between the two towns and the tower company," Gouger said.

Mayor Rex Pesnell said he would contact Jasper officials to "see what they're thinking on it" before the towns made a decision on the matter.

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