Sherwood city officials learned during a special work session July 3 that they are going to need to come up with about $1.5 million in early 2013 to replace their 20-year-old emergency radio/communications system.
"The federal mandate is January 2013," Sherwood Police Chief James Bedwell said to aldermen, Mayor Virginia Hillman and City Clerk Angela Nicholson.
In addition to a federal mandate, the city police department is facing pressure as the Little Rock Police Department is planning to upgrade its communications network sometime in early 2013 after city voters there last year adopted sales tax levies. Little Rock pledged to its citizens if they passed sales tax increases, then they would devote a portion of those funds to enhancing safety through police and fire protection upgrades. The sales tax initiatives passed, and now Sherwood must implement upgrades or they will not be able to utilize Little Rock’s emergency communications system.
Bedwell said Sherwood’s emergency system depends on Little Rock’s emergency communications system.
"We are running out of time," he said. "We were not able to find any grants. We have spent hours and days, and we cannot find any grants available for police departments."
The council was presented a proposal from Motorola Solutions of Little Rock, which would upgrade Sherwood’s emergency network for about $1.5 million.
Bill Clay, sales manager for Grace Communications Inc. of North Little Rock which partners with Motorola, said Sherwood needs to move forward to meet quickly approaching deadlines.
"Our timetable is really critical," Clay said. "Little Rock is moving forward, and they have been for several months. They could be done tomorrow."
Clay said Little Rock’s target date is the first quarter of 2013.
"We have a lot of users doing the same thing," Clay said, naming specifically the municipal governments of Maumelle, North Little Rock and Pulaski County. "It will be tough to get everybody on at the same time."
He told Sherwood city officials they would receive some discounts if they moved forward earlier rather than later with legislation to approve moving forward with the new system.
Once the city signs on and buys the new equipment, it will cost about $300,000 per year. It can pay the Motorola bill monthly, twice a year or in one-year monthly payments for five years.
"How many years are we looking at this before it gets changed again?" asked Alderman Tim McMinn, who wanted to know after the first-year period if Sherwood can expect to be forced to pay for another upgrade.
Clay told McMinn technology is continually being upgraded and changing, but the new system Sherwood would be buying has the capability of being upgraded.
Police Capt. Grady Russell told city officials thy current emergency communications network has lasted about 20 years and has done its job, but it is time to upgrade.
Russell said the current system is so old that it is difficult to find replacement parts for broken equipment.
Both Aldermen Charles Harmon and Marina Brooks said the city needs to move forward with the upgrade since Motorola currently is the only company which provides the service.
"We can either pay this or not have a system," Harmon said.
Brooks said it is pointless to continue talking about the necessity of the upgrade because it is necessary, and city officials need to move on, pass the legislation and work on a plan to pay for it.
City Public Works Director Brian Galloway told Sherwood officials his department also will need to do its own communications upgrade, but that transition would be much less costly and involved. Galloway estimated the cost to be somewhere in the thousands of dollars.