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Hubbard County Dep. Jeremiah Johnson, like the rest of the Sheriff's Department, will get new high tech radio equipment eventually. The county voted to expend matching funds for grant monies to purchase the VHF system and dual band portable radios so deputies can communicate with firefighters. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County amasses funds for radio conversion

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Hubbard County commissioners approved a radio participation plan and the Sheriff's Department seeking grant funds as the county joins a statewide radio conversion that is massive in scope and expensive to taxpayers.

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The conversion to digital frequencies is mandated to occur by Jan. 1, 2013. The county has been involved for the past three years in regional and local talks to see what radio system it should convert to.

Although 70-some of the state's 87 counties have chosen to go with a ARMER 800 Mhz system, the northwest region, including Hubbard County, chose to go with a cheaper system using digital VHF frequencies. ARMER is an acronym for Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response.

But because Hubbard County fire chiefs voted last spring to purchase ARMER equipment and began securing grant funds, Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said grant funds recently allocated to the northwest region will go toward the purchase of dual band portable radios, so deputies on the road can communicate with all groups.

"It won't outfit the whole group but it will cover the main players, the road deputies" he said of the dual band radios, estimated to cost $6,000 versus a single band portable at $1,500.

But some county Emergency Medical Services can't access the fire department grants if they are not affiliated with a fire department, so Homer said the county would have to make sure it provides radios for those First Responders.

Hubbard and other counties will get two allocations totaling $55,000. But the county needed to respond to the grant proposal by Aug. 31 because it will entail a 20 percent match locally. That amount will be just under $14,000, which the board committed to funding.

The signed participation agreement will allow all emergency response agencies to pursue funding for infrastructure, radios and tower upgrades and for VHF users to interact with ARMER users. The infrastructure is estimated to cost $175,000.

In other business, the board:

n Reported the July 31 consignment auction of used equipment and vehicles netted $16,118.40, which will be allocated to the courthouse, Social Services, Forfeited Land and Sheriff's departments.

n Rescinded the appointment of coordinator Jack Paul as official board clerk and permanently appointed interim coordinator Debbie Thompson to the post.

Paul is under disciplinary suspension this month for allegedly violating portions of the state's data privacy act. The board suspended him for 20 days without pay.

n Learned from public health coordinator Chris Broeker that the county is in the peak season to contract West Nile virus.

Broeker said the elderly are susceptible to the mosquito-borne West Nile, which can cause encephalitis or death.

"We have had 455 cases and 14 deaths since 2002" in the state, she told the board.

"This has been a big mosquito year," she warned, with above average rainfall causing pools of standing water.

n Learned the county jail may get inmates from Clay County, possibly 15 per day.

Part of Clay County's jail will be closed by the Department of Corrections next month. The jail will send half of those 30 inmates to Hubbard County, the other half to Wilkin County, jail administrator Sherri Klasen told the board.

n Welcomed back Solid Waste Superintendent Vern Massie, who has returned to work part-time, Massie was badly injured earlier this summer in a tractor accident on his rural farmstead and has been confined to his home since.

"I have the tractor for sale, by the way," he noted. Massie also joked that he was worried about his job. During his absence, commissioners debated whether they wanted to combine his position with the opening for Land Commissioner.

Wednesday the board authorized the Public Works Department to advertise the Land Commission job as a single position.

But board chair Lyle Robinson said the county needs to look to the future. The county has too many department heads with minimal supervisory duties because they have small staffs.

"As we fill management positions, we need to look at people with multiple skills," he said. "It gives us flexibility in the future."

n Heard there's a slight dip in requests for income maintenance and monthly intakes, requests for assistance that must be processed to determine eligibility. And Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said many applicants are from out of state.

"We'd like to know why they're coming," he said. "They need help with housing, food, cash assistance. Maybe they like the lakes and pine trees."

Commissioners wondered if the record heat in the southern U.S. has driven people northward or if people are arriving early for the potato harvest.

But Bessler dispelled the notion that once people are on the dole, they stay on it for life.

"That's a misunderstanding," he said. "The ones that stay on long term are the disabled."

But he said as the economy has a sluggish recovery, unemployed persons will be in the system longer than they have in the past.

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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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