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Knife River Paving of Bemidji began placing a bituminous overlay on County Road 12, from Akeley to the Cass County line, this week. Paving should be complete by Monday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

County begins major purchases of radio equipment

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As Hubbard County complies with a federal mandate to convert all radio communications to narrowband by 2013, the board Wednesday approved spending $479,862 for radio equipment.

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Hubbard County is joining a statewide radio program called ARMER. Costs for the conversion have been defrayed by grant monies and the 911 fund, which accrues at a rate of $96,000 annually. That fund will be called on to help supplement the county's share of the conversion, which is slated for this fall.

Costs for the project, estimated a year ago at $1 million, have slowly been declining, Sheriff Cory Aukes told the board. The Motorola equipment will be purchased from a Fargo vendor. It will use a microwave connection out of Nevis.

The program arose from suggestions issued via the 911 task force, which noted the problem emergency personnel had when responding to the Twin Towers. Radio transmissions became garbled and the army of responders was unable to communicate with each other as each was using a different radio channel.

Moving to narrowband frequencies allows more channels to be available to emergency responders.

But highway departments, school buses and other forms of transportation will be able to access the system once implemented.

The board hesitated to spend nearly $22,000 to upgrade the jail's security system.

Tom Hankins, one of the county's technical experts, said computerized systems generally have a five-year life cycle. The jail's security system was installed seven years ago.

Dispatchers and jailers monitor a screen of 16 camera shots throughout the facility. Jail administrator Sherri Klasen said there has been up to a 3 second time lag switching between close-up screens, which could be crucial in an emergency.

The system unlocks cell doors, controls light switches, the security cameras and temperature. Small versions of the screens are monitored at all times, but if a dispatcher or jailer notices something happening, they have the option of enlarging the screen to call for help.

The software could be failing altogether, Hankins speculated.

"We don't have the expertise to deal with it," he said.

Three seconds may not be much to the average person, Hankins said, but to an inmate in distress or a jailer under attack, it could be a matter of life or death.

The board tabled the matter for two weeks to see if there are alternative solutions, but both Klasen and Hankins said the delays in getting video screens up on a monitor could be symptomatic of a larger problem.

"There's liability there but I don't know how to fix it," board chair Dick Devine said.

In other action, the board:

n Voted to approve a five-year contract with outside auditors that would cost $30,500 annually.

The Thief River Falls firm has provided an independent audit to the county, required by law, for several years and sought a contract renewal.

Auditor Pam Heeren said if the county has state auditors come in, the costs could more than double, to more than $60,000 annually.

"We still have to send it for state review so they get their thumb in there," Heeren said of the state's role in the audit.

Heeren also reported that four townships and the city of Laporte have opted to use mail balloting instead of open polling places. The townships are Hendrickson, Clay, Thorpe and Steamboat River. In all, 440 ballots will be mailed out.

The county did receive a grant of $6,344 to help with the cost of elections.

n Heard that bituminous paving began this week on the County Road 12 project, from Akeley to the Cass County border.

Knife River Paving of Bemidji said the 5.6-mile, $1.3 million project will be completed by June 11.

n Deferred implementation of a timber policy that would require loggers, large and small, to carry $1.5 million tort liability insurance for obtaining contracts on county land.

State law requires that amount of insurance for all political subdivisions for claims arising after June 2009.

Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier was directed to discuss the issue with loggers Tuesday at the county's summer sale so the industry could have input before any policy is implemented.

n Heard a presentation on the state's Toward Zero Death program by state transportation officials.

Hubbard County lags significantly behind the state in seat belt usage, commissioners were told. The program focuses on driving behaviors that contribute to fatal crashes and has had a marked decrease in highway deaths.

Alcohol use, distracted driving, speed and not using safety belts contributes to fatalities.

Devine, a retired State Patrol trooper, said he could attest to the grim numbers from his own personal experience.

"In a normal collision if you're wearing a seatbelt, you will survive," he said. "I could tell you stories about that all day. We have a problem convincing people of the risk they're taking not wearing seatbelts."

n Heard from community health director RaeAnn Mayer that health officials are watching whooping cough outbreaks at this time of year.

Although Hubbard County has no reported cases, she said that could change when an influx of Twin Cities residents vacation in the north woods.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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