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Grant money still available for Mower County radio switch

Mower County's decision to participate only partially in the Southeast Minnesota Regional Radio Board is paying off — literally.

The primary purpose of the 11-county collaboration is to establish a common "backbone" network, consisting of dispatch equipment and radio sites that all users can use to communicate with dispatch and each other using 800 MHz radios.

The system is used by police officers, deputies, fire and ambulance personnel, as well as other governmental agencies within the county.

Though the county has been able to purchase about 120 units at no cost, thanks to grants, it missed out on the first big block of grant money available only to full participants. The other 10 counties are full participants.

But, Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi told the county board Tuesday, "it didn't all get used up, so now we're able to tap into that money." She learned of its availability last week.


The money can be used toward the infrastructure of the 800 MHz radio system; Amazi's recommendation would be to purchase three consoles for the dispatch center.

With an estimated price tag of $175,000 each, the grant would cover about $262,000. The remaining half would then be split between the city and the county — about $132,000 each.

The county's current primary means of communication is the VHF radio system; the consoles could bridge the two systems, said Dave Pike, a patrol sergeant for the county and Mower County's representative on the regional radio board.

They would also provide "interoperability throughout the entire county and with our neighbors to the south," Amazi said, referring to Iowa counties.

It's one more thing for the county board to throw into the mix while debating budget issues, said Craig Oscarson, county coordinator.

"The finance committee won't be recommending any new software" purchases in 2013, he cautioned.

"This isn't going to force us into any new software," Amazi told him, "but this stuff is expensive."

City officials would learn of the grant eligibility on Wednesday, said Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger, during the city staff meeting.


The board tabled the decision, subject to funding availability and preliminary budget talks.

"We're the only county in southeast Minnesota that isn't" fully committed to the 800 MHz system, Pike said.

"Being the last hold-out, they're very interested in getting Mower County on board," he said.

The county will have until Sept. 20 to decide if it will accept the grant money; installation would be required by June 2013 — prior to the completion of the planned remodel of the Law Enforcement Center — unless federal officials grant an extension.

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