Officials in Bibb and Monroe counties have taken a big step toward creating a communications corridor that one day may stretch east to Savannah and north and south on Interstate 75.
The counties have signed a memorandum of understanding establishing the Central Georgia Interoperable Regional Radio System, which allows Monroe County to piggyback onto Bibb Countys new $7.7 million, all-digital 800-megahertz system radio system.
The agreement allows Monroe County to use Bibbs core radio infrastructure while adding its own equipment to expand radio coverage. By using the same system, Bibb and Monroe public safety workers will be able to communicate faster and easier than if they were on separate systems.
Bibb Countys transition to the system is expected to be complete within the next two weeks, said Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb Countys public affairs director.
Monroe County Commission Chairman Michael Bilderback said he hopes his countys public safety workers will be talking on the system sometime later this year.
Although Monroe County has borrowed $2.9 million from anticipated collections from a special purpose local option sales tax to pay for the project, equipment purchases are needed to build the systems infrastructure using the system.
Four counties -- Bibb, Jones, Monroe and Peach -- also have applied for a $1.8 million federal grant related to the regional system, said Robert Smith, a Middle Georgia Regional Commission government services specialist.
The whole life of the project depends on this funding, Smith said. It would have all those counties on line and ready to participate.
While the grant funds wouldnt pay for each public safety worker to have a radio, there would be enough equipment for the counties to get started, he said.
Baldwin and Crawford counties also have expressed interest in joining the system, as has the city of Perry, Smith said.
Bilderback said grant funds would help add a radio tower site in Culloden to two existing radio towers in Smarr and Cabiness that will be transitioned using county funds. County funds also will pay for a new tower in Forsyth.
The regional radio system will be modeled on the Southeast Georgia Regional Radio Network in Savannah which includes Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh counties, Smith said.
It will be governed by a board of representatives from each county. The counties will share costs for maintaining the system and future upgrades, he said.
Using Monroe Countys current system, deputies are experiencing some bleed over from other radio systems, said Sheriff John Cary Bittick.
Joining the new, regional system will fix the problem while also making it faster and easier for public safety workers to talk with one another when a need arises, such as during a disaster or a multi-county car chase, he said.
With a chase, it only takes a matter of 10, 15, 20 minutes and youre in the neighboring county, Bittick said. In 30 minutes, youre another county away.