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Commission chairman says 'Whoa radios!'

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By Jeff M. Hardison

BRONSON - Levy County spent $1.5 million on its new 800-megahertz radio system, and County Commission Chairman Sammy Yearty told firefighters not to ask for more radios.

Chiefland Fire Chief John Ward approached the County Commission with a few requests for improving firefighters' communications at a special meeting March 25. The county agreed to improve towers for paging, and to seek a grant for improving a tower to help radio service.

Ward's request for 70 more hand-held radios, which he first made on March 18, was not even mentioned at the March 25 meeting. Ward previously mentioned the $193,000 expense buying more radios as being possible through a 90 percent- 10 percent Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

The $19,300 match from the county for those additional 70 hand-held radios, however, is not being considered by the County Commission.

Yearty made his feelings clear on March 25.

"We talked about the hand-held radios and got a list from everyone," Yearty said. "We talked about how we are going to pay for it with board (of County Commissioners) funds for the rest of this year. We can't keep adding radios now. We don't have the money to continue to add, and add and add."

Yearty referred to the fire department budgets being approved for the current fiscal year, and the county had to absorb a $165,000 expense that was not budgeted, to pay user fees for those radios in this budget year.

The commission chairman reminded Ward and other firefighters that Dick Tummond, assistant to the county coordinator, had spent a lot of time speaking with departments about the number of radios needed.

The final tally for all fire departments was 103 hand-held portable radios and 43 mobile vehicle-based radios.

Hand-held radios cost about $2,757 each. Vehicle radios cost about $3,912 each.

County Coordinator Freddie Moody said he plans to conduct a fire service workshop to discuss the need for dispatchers, redistricting, merging departments and other issues.

"Our budget next year is not going to be as big as this year," Yearty said. "The property appraiser is bringing values down. And we have got to comply with the amendment (to the State Constitution, which increases Homestead Exemption)."

Every department in the county needs to be prepared for cuts in the coming fiscal year, Yearty said.