The special purpose local option sales tax that voters approved in November will hasten a badly needed upgrade to the Macon and Bibb County emergency communication system, a City Council committee heard Monday afternoon.
And in a footnote to the meeting, Public Safety Committee Chairman Virgil Watkins mentioned that he’ll soon bring up an ordinance to extend the city’s curfew by one year, to 17-year-olds.
The current 800 MHz radio system, used by all local emergency service providers, was a hand-me-down from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is now prone to breakdowns. The SPLOST project list included $8 million for major upgrades to the system.
A first phase of that work is already complete, ensuring that there are enough channels available to handle an emergency, said city Information Technology Director Stephen Masteller.
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“Phase One was completed two months ahead of time,” he said.
The second phase is under way, including dispatcher console upgrades in the 911 center, and new microwave dishes, Masteller said. Supplier Motorola agreed to provide four new dishes for the price of three, improving coverage, officials have previously said. Motorola also is waiting for payment until SPLOST funds are available.
With that boost, the upgrade will be finished in one year instead of three, Masteller said.
But Bibb County still needs to upgrade its own dispatch center consoles, used mostly for sheriff’s deputy calls. If they don’t, they’ll lose backup capabilities when the new system is switched on, he said.
“They are aware of this problem,” Masteller said.
It wasn’t on Monday’s agenda, but at the meeting’s end Watkins asked Assistant City Attorney Stuart Morelli about the status of a curfew revision.
In early September, spurred by a number of shootings involving local youth, council members discussed several possible changes but didn’t act on them. The current curfew requires those age 16 and under to be off the streets by midnight, but it had been laxly enforced due in part to lack of resources.
The draft ordinance Watkins mentioned as a “teaser for next time” would extend the curfew to 17-year-olds, but make no other major changes, he said.
Councilman Frank Tompkins, however, said he’d like to discuss making several unspecified changes in the ordinance, not just extending its reach.
Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins told the committee that “96 percent” of Bibb County has an ISO rating of 3 -- on a 10-point scale, with 1 being the highest -- but there are a few areas with a 9 rating.
That rating is used by insurance companies to set fire insurance rates.
The fire department, which answered 12,000 calls last year, reaches city locations in an average of 4.1 minutes and county locations in an average 5.5 minutes, Riggins said. The time is longer in the areas rated 9, due to distance from fire stations.
But there’s money in the latest SPLOST to build three more stations, including two in rural parts of the county, and that should bring up the ratings in those last few areas, Riggins said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.