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County to look for funding for new radio for sheriff's office

Updated: Tuesday, July 23 2013, 11:28 AM MDT

By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso County commissioners will likely agree to update the sheriff's radio system but their final decision, including how to pay for it, will take two more weeks.

After a lengthy and at times, heated debate, at commissioner's court Monday, the four members of the court unanimously agreed to delay a vote while they identify the funds they'll use for the project.

Ultimately, they appeared on the same page that the radio update was necessary for public safety but they were at odds with how to pay for the costly upgrade.

As we've reported, the sheriff's office is asking the county for $10.3 million to replace the department's old and outdated radio system, which currently only works in about 25 percent of the county.

The price tag is well above the previously estimated cost of $4.5 million.

Sheriff Richard Wiles said this conversion is his top priority because of public safety. Without the upgrade, the community and deputies would be put at risk, he said.

All of the commissioners agreed on the impact on public safety and the necessity for the upgrade.

"Ultimately it is a public safety issue and it is and I do believe each one of the commissioners and County Judge Escobar understand that and understand how important it is and that it should be a priority and I agree with them too. If I have options to replace a roof or buy a radio system, I'd buy the radio system. I agree with them," said Wiles.

But the commissioners have differing views on how to pay for it.

One possibility would be to use leftover funds from other bond projects that have been completed under budget or possibly using funds for projects that have not yet gotten off the ground.

The second option would be additional financing through the provider, Motorola.

The worst-case scenario option discussed by commissioners would be using money from the general fund.

"I'm not in favor of dipping in the general fund. We have some COS that we approved approximately 10 months ago $ 110 million. There are some projects that haven't even started from what I understand. The auditors are going to come back to us and see if maybe there is somewhere we can prioritize in order to make this all a reality," said Commissioner Sergio Lewis.

Commissioner Vince Perez pressed Sheriff Wiles to consider using some of the other funds allocated to the sheriff's office, even suggesting using some of the confiscated funds.
"We actually spend a lot of that money that keeps the county from having to fund thing; grant matches, vehicles, pagers, cellphones. So to just take the whole amount and turn it over to the county to support a radio system that their responsible to fund puts us at a disadvantage to ensure those other things are in place," said Wiles.

Escobar said by waiting two weeks it will give the court time to do its due diligence and identify a few plans for funding.

The city is making the same conversion with Motorola for the police department beginning this fall. The county needs to finalize the deal with Motorola by Aug. 15 to capitalize on incentives available to them if the complete the project in conjunction with the city's project.

Wiles said it will allow for better interconnectivity between the two agencies.

As we've reported El Paso is the last county in Texas to make the switch from analog to digital.

County to look for funding for new radio for sheriff's office

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