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In Divided Vote, Newport Gives OK to Digital Radio Project

The massive upgrade to digitize the region's emergency communication infrastructure was met with some contention at Monday night's Newport city commission meeting.

Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery and County Administrator Matt Elberfeld visited the meeting to present the case for the upgrade.

All three Northern Kentucky counties are making the upgrade and, together, reached a $4.8 million deal with Motorola. To pay for its share of the costs, the Campbell County Fiscal Court last month gave final approval to raise its 911 fee from $45 per residential unit to $70. The price could have been higher, Elberfeld said, but by joining the three counties together, the final bid saved an estimated $3 million.

The county does not need the city's approval to raise its 911 fee. On Monday, the county was seeking approval from Newport so that the funds collected by the fee increase could be directed to operate the consolidated dispatch that operates in the Newport city building, the result of merging the county, Newport, and Ft. Thomas dispatch centers.

"If the cities don't approve it, we would end up in an interesting legal system where the county collects that money but couldn't spend it on dispatch," Elberfeld said.

Narrowly, the county got what it asked for.

By a vote of 3-2, the Newport city commission gave its blessing. Mayor Jerry Peluso and Commissioners Thomas Guidugli and Frank Peluso voted in favor, while Commissioners Beth Fennell and Ken Rechtin opposed, for different reasons.

"I feel it's an unfair tax burden to the citizens of the city and we should have had a little more warning of this," Fennell argued. "It's almost doubling in four years time."

Pendery responded that the $70 fee covers all the expenses of the operations and anticipates some inflation. "So, our hope is, it will remain flat for many years to come," he said.

"It's a hope, though. Not a guarantee," Fennell responded. "People in the city have a hard time coming up with the $45, and now it's $70.

"I don't think I've ever voted against anything related to public safety, but I'm really struggling with this. I think it's an unfair burden to our population."

Pendery said that when the merger in Campbell County took place, most of the calls were from Newport.

Rechtin argued that the region missed an opportunity to consolidate dispatch operations into one regional entity. There are two dispatch centers in Kenton County and another in Boone County, which means that there are four total dispatch centers across the three counties.

"I think we are spending the citizens' money in excess of what is necessary," Rechtin said. "We could have gotten cheaper by a combined system with Kenton and Boone Counties. We had an opportunity and we passed it by."

Ultimately, the vote was in favor of moving forward.
 
"I've never met a person who wants to pay more, but everyone I talk to about emergency services - we all agree we have to have it," Mayor Peluso said.
 
The cities will still be on the hook down the road for the cost of the actual radios used by their emergency personnel. The county will issue a request for proposals for that equipment cost.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Newport city building (RCN file)