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Commissioners to decide on Sheriffs Radio upgrade, find funding
By: Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso County Commissioners are expected to a make a decision on where the money will come from to fund the new sheriffs radio system, that is, if they approve the project.
Two weeks ago, county commissioners discussed the project at length and all ultimately seemed to agree the upgrade to the old out dated systems, was necessary but decided to table the issue for two weeks while they examined possible funding sources.
The Sheriff's Office is asking for about $10.3 million to replace the departments outdated radio system which currently only works in about 25 percent of the county. El Paso county is the last county in the state of Texas to make the switch from analog to digital.
But it's still $4.5 million above what the county has budgeted for the project and the challenge has been figuring out where the additional funding will come from.
"Ultimately, it is a public safety issue but I do believe that the county judge and the commissioners understand that," said Sheriff Richard Wiles.
Wiles calls the upgrade his "top priority" because of the risk deputies and the community would be at without an upgraded system.
Currently, there are dead zones in Far East El Paso and the Lower Valley.
One possibility from funding would be to use leftover funds from other bond projects. Another option would be additional financing through the provider, Motorola which could mean higher interest rates, adding to the expense of the project.
The other option is using money from the county's general fund, which is what county judge Veronica Escobar refers to as the "worst case scenario."
"I'm not in favor of dipping in the general fund we have some costs that we approved approximately 10 months ago," said Commissioner Sergio Lewis.
Commissioner Vince Perez said he would like the Sheriff's office to look for areas within their own budget to cut or put towards making the new radios a reality.
"I agree with them too, if I have options to replace a roof or buy a radio system. I would by the radio system. I agree with that," said Wiles.
At the meeting two weeks ago, Wiles didn't think there were many areas within the department's budget that he could cut.
The El Paso Police department is going "online" this fall and Wiles said, having the two agencies on the same system is key to being able to work together.
"This is a basic tool that the employees have to have for their safety and the safety of the community they serve," said Wiles.
The county needs to finalize the deal with Motorola by Aug. 15 in order to receive the incentives for completing the project along with the city's project.