Wis. Panel Urged to Buy Communications System

MADISON, Wis. --

Some Dane County leaders said that politics is playing too much of a role when it comes to implementing new emergency communications technology.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on Tuesday said the county stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, and face the delayed implementation of a critical emergency communications system for first responders, following the action of 10 Dane County Board members to delay funding for the project.

Parisi warned that public safety is at stake if the new technology, which was approved last year, doesn't get the county funding it needs.

"Being able to go into multiple frequencies -- that's what it's all about," said Middleton Fire Chief Aaron Harris, who said keeping lines of communication open between first responders could be the difference between life and death.

Harris said he's looking forward to using a new countywide emergency communications network for police, fire and emergency medical services.

"Having that system in place sooner is obviously going to be better," said Harris. "Some of the technology in the new system is better, so it's safer for our firefighters."

"We're here today urging swift action after an unprecedented political bump in the road," said Parisi, who was alongside other county leaders during a news conference in Middleton to express his disappointment with the actions of 10 county supervisors who voted to postpone capital financing and further delay payment for the system.

"We need to move on with this," said John Dejung, Dane County 911 operations director. "We need to move on quickly; we need to avoid fines."

Federal regulations require the new emergency systems to be in place by Jan. 1, 2013, or the county could face a fine of $10,000 a day.

"When we looked at it, some of us said there's some questions we have about what's in this," said Jack Martz, a county board supervisor who voted to postpone funding.

Martz said he is concerned about the county's borrowing implications and said the move to postpone is all about finance, not politics.

"We're not trying to be obstructionists in any way, shape or form," said Martz. "We're just trying to do a thorough job of trying to help the whole process out."

"There's a time and place for politics. Public safety is never that place," Parisi said.

Parisi said he is looking into submitting a waiver to the Federal Communications Commission requesting an extension of the emergency radio project deadline to avoid fines.

The Dane County Board is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6.

Parisi said that if the 10 supervisors do not approve the bonding resolution at the next Dane County Board meeting, the county will likely have to suspend its contract with Harris Corp., the company responsible for building the new countywide emergency communications system. He said the county will still be responsible for payment of services to date and could face other penalties for breach of contract.

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