The Sherwood City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to sign a contract to replace its 20-year-old emergency radio/communications system.
The contract authorizes the city to spend about $1.5 million with the money due about one year after the authorization is granted, police Chief James Bedwell said.
The purchase of the radios did not come without debate among city officials.
"That is fine we need it, but where are we going to come up with the $300,000 a year to pay for it?" Alderman Kevin Lilly asked.
Lilly said he remembers the 2012 budget-drafting process when city officials were going over expenditures line item by line item trying to find an extra $500 here or $1,000 there to be able to draft a balanced budget.
"I hear what you are saying, but we have to do this," added Alderman Steve Fender.
Alderman Charles Harmon said if Sherwood does not convert to the upgraded radios, then it will not be able to communicate with the Little Rock Police Department, which is in the process of converting to a more modern, digital system sometime in early 2013.
Sherwood as well as several other Central Arkansas municipalities depend upon Little Rock’s emergency communications system. If their emergency network cannot communicate with Little Rock’s system, then they are unable to communicate with departments outside of their own municipalities.
"Little Rock is going to digitalize because it is being mandated by the federal government," said Alderman Ken Keplinger. "The whole nation is supposed to go digital in its emergency communications."
Other city officials expressed frustration that the federal government is requiring action without providing any accompanying revenue.
"Another unfunded mandate," Harmon said.
Mayor Virginia Hillman said Little Rock had an easier time converting to the digital technology after city voters there passed a sales tax increase to provide the municipality with more revenue.
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.
"Our timetable is really critical," Bedwell said. "If we do not have this contract signed by Aug. 1, then Motorola cannot guarantee that they can have our new system ready to go at the first of the year."
Bedwell said Motorola is trying to get all participating municipalities ready to go with new contracts by the beginning of August.
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.
The city is getting a $35,000 discount for trading in its current equipment.
City officials told Lilly they have no idea right now where to come up with the $300,000 in annual payments.
Because the first payment would not be due until about August 2013, city officials can put that expenditure in the 2013 budget when they begin the process of putting together next year’s budget.
"We knew this was coming," Fender said.
During a council work session held early in July, city officials discussed the possibility of asking city voters for a tax increase to help Sherwood with its tight budget.
Hillman said she is not sure yet if a sales or property tax increase would be sought after by the city. She said she is considering trying to update some of the city’s various utility company franchise agreements as a way to bring in more revenue.
During the work session, Harmon told his fellow city officials he examined some of Sherwood’s current franchise agreements with various utility companies and discovered that the city charges less in some of its franchise agreements than do other cities.
City Engineer Ellen Norvell said some of Sherwood’s franchise agreements have not been updated in 50 years.
Sherwood typically starts putting together next year’s city budget until the fall quarter.