Parker County commissioners approved an agreement with the North Central Texas Council of Governments Monday that will allow the agency to defray the costs of narrowbanding more than 1,000 county public safety radios, per Federal Communications Commission specifications.
“The Federal Communications Commission is requiring that all Very High Frequency (VHF) communication go to a narrowband format, creating more space within the radio spectrum for more technology,” Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott said. “We’re filling up our air space quickly, and this is the FCC’s way to open up airwaves to allow more traffic.”
The county’s up-to-date Project 25 system — acquired when it was first launched, Scott said — is compliant with narrow band width, “but our interoperability frequencies — those used by two or more entities to exchange information — are being forced into narrow band.”
“We have to go back and re-tune the radios to meet this requirement,” he said. “We’re looking to touch 1,100 public safety radios in the county.”
Scott said the re-tuning process will involve hooking each radio up to a computer and having a technician make the required changes.
By having technicians stationed in different county locations, he said, Parker County plans to meet the new FCC standards in a week’s time, an event planned for the last week in October.
The cost to the county will be about $40,000, Scott said, with an undetermined amount of assistance from NCTCOG.
The FCC deadline is Dec. 31, Scott said, and appears to be firm. The federal agency began talking about making the change in the mid-1990s, but didn’t emphasize it, he said. The deadline has been moved several times.
Scott said the air space has become crowded due to the increasing use of cell phones, pagers, and other devices. He said remote oil sites also use the VHF spectrum to send information on well production back to company offices.
The ultimate solution in the future, he said, is new, expensive technology that interlaces packets of data, allowing several users to share a band of frequencies.
One of the reasons Parker County has delayed making the change, Scott said, is because some of the other counties and public safety agencies haven’t done so, and Parker County wanted to maintain communications with them.
His office has experimented, however, he said, and found that communication between the old and new systems is still possible, although having a difference reduces the volume of the signal.
In other action the court unanimously approved:
• issuing the remaining $20 million in Transportation Bond funds from the 2008 bond election.
• changing the Internet provider from Skybeam to Nextlink. IT Director Trish Radford said the associated changes would save money, increase speed and allow the county to have Internet service in an emergency should the County Annex lose service.
• constructing a 40-foot by 80-foot three-sided building on county property at Bethel Road to store vehicles and other properties seized by the Sheriff’s Department. The estimated $25,000 construction cost is to be paid out of asset forfeiture funds from the sheriff, district attorney and Weatherford Police Department.
“We currently have 8 or 10 vehicles under seizure by order of the court,” Sheriff Larry Fowler said, “and we have an obligation to protect these vehicles, as well as riding lawnmowers and other things.” Fowler said the expensive alternative was storing the vehicles at a wrecking yard for an extended period.
• a contract for Parker County inmate care with Weatherford Texas Hospital Company, LLC. County Attorney John Forrest said he had worked locally with Weatherford Regional Medical Center and negotiated a discount off the Texas Medicaid program.
• an interlocal agreement with the City of Weatherford for regulation of on-site sewage facilities. The agreement allows the county’s Permitting Department to do the inspections and collect the permit fees in Weatherford, as it does in other parts of the county.