BENTONVILLE -- A new radio system for the city, which should improve how different agencies talk to each other is still being fine tuned, an official said.
"We are in a preliminary process to get the civil work and tower sites designed and the tower sites OK'd and approved via city planning," Police Capt. John Hubbard said. "The towers will be the slow and challenging part. Once we can get them approved and break ground to build them out, we will move forward much faster. So far, all moving smoothly."
The City Council at its July 12 meeting approved a change order to a contract with radio provider RACOM for the relocation of two communication towers.
Voters on April 13, 2021, backed the city's $266 million bond plan for capital projects and bond refinancing by approving all nine questions on the special election ballot by at least 76%. The city will pay for the bonds by extending a 1-cent sales tax. The tax was approved in 2003 and extended in 2007.
A new radio system is part of the bond plan. The bond will pay close to $6.6 million for a new radio system.
The current radio system is 15 years old, out of date, not up-gradable and parts are difficult to acquire, said Jeremy Metcalf, Fire Department battalion chief.
The Fire and Police departments now use communication technology that no longer allows first responders to have interoperability communications with local, regional and state agencies during emergencies or when interoperability communications with these agencies are necessary, according to the city.
Interoperability means personnel from different cities, counties, the state and agencies within those jurisdictions can communicate with each other via radio, whether that's during major events like a tornado or something as mundane as a football game, Hubbard previously said.
Benton County has four Public Safety Answering Points where 911 calls are answered: the police departments in Bentonville, Rogers and Siloam Springs and Benton County Central Communications.
In 2021, the Bentonville Emergency Communications Center handled 122,861 calls coming into the center -- a 19% increase from 2020, Mayor Stephanie Orman said in her State of the City address earlier this year. About 51,203 of those calls were to the Police Department. Another 6,721 calls were related to fire and EMS, Orman said.
The new radio system will be manufactured under the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Project 25 standard, or commonly known as "P-25," that improves Bentonville interoperability, and also creates multi-agency communication on a shared radio channel, according to the city.
"Hopefully, we can have the system built and in service within 12 to 18 months, but it could go slightly longer if any supply issues are encountered," Hubbard said.
The new radio technology also supports firefighters and police with improved in-building coverage in schools, hospitals, local businesses and throughout the city.
The state, Benton County and the cities of Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale use the P-25 system, Metcalf said.
RACOM recommended a tower site on the north end of the city that would have required a lease or land purchase to the city. That particular tower site will be relocated to city-owned property near the water tower on the west end of Northwest 12th Street, according to council documents.
The proposed southwest location at Bentonville Fire Station No. 7 will be relocated to city-owned property on Southwest Barron Road, according to council documents.
Hubbard said the relocations were "just fine tuning."
A letter from Marshalltown, Iowa-based RACOM that was part of the agenda packet noted there would be improved coverage in several areas including around Northwest Palimino Street, Northwest Saddlebrook Drive and the trail area west of there.
Reduced coverage is projected mainly in the underdeveloped far southwest tip of city property south and west of Mill Dam Road. There also is reduced coverage projected over the ridge on the far north side of the city, according to the letter.
The city will have four towers when the project is complete, Hubbard said. The other towers will be beside police dispatch on Southwest 14th Street and another off of Rice Road east of Interstate 49. That is a leased tower that is already built, he said.