Murray Co. OKs Tracy area tower upgrade

SLAYTON –The Murray County Board asked for more information Tuesday about two different law enforcement funding questions.

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners authorized Chief Deputy Sheriff Heath Landsman to proceed with plans to improve the communications signal system in a way that guarantees effective tower reception in the northeast corner of the county near Lake Shetek.

The board also delayed action on approval of annual funding for the multi-county Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force. The item is expected to be addressed at the next board meeting after commissioners review copies of the current agreement.

For the tower upgrade, Landsman reported that the county’s service provider has offered to upgrade the tower reception through a new T-1 line at an added cost of $400 a month.

The total cost under current contractual terms depends on whether the change constitutes a new three-year agreement or just a continuation of a current three-year term with two years remaining.

Landsman recommended approval in either case, noting that it offers a necessary comfort level for dependable emergency communication. A review of the signal strength conducted this spring confirmed that reception at the Tracy area tower has limitations, most likely from sending the signal over a large lake area.

“If we’d ever lose reception completely, it would cause issues with emergency response,” Landsman said. “It would mean that officers couldn’t communicate, or maybe that they’d only be able to do it sporadically.”

When asked about long-term cost factors, he said it’s possible that other providers might offer a lower overall price, but that they would not be able to activate immediately. Service costs would therefore have to be compared at a time that coincides with an upcoming contract expiration date.

Commissioner Lori Gunnink cast the vote not to approve the proposal, saying that more information should be gathered about long term costs.

The other four commissioners — James Jens, Dave Thiner, Jim Kluis and Dennis Welgraven — said they’re satisfied that either a two-year or three-year commitment to a higher monthly price is needed to meet short-term service needs.

“We know the tower reception should be improved,” Jens said. “If a better option becomes available, we can go with a different contract at that point.”

For the drug task force, commissioners tabled approval of a $32,000 local cost by consensus. At the start of the discussion, Landsman noted that the city of Adrian was not represented at the task force meeting to approve joint powers amendments but that others at the meeting supported the changes.

The board then questioned why new amendments, which include who can serve as a voting member of the task force board, were not brought to county boards in advance of the annual funding request. As a result of the changes, Murray County Attorney Travis Smith (who provides legal advice to the task force) and Fulda Police Chief Paul Kenney will no longer be voting members.

Landsman and Smith replied that dollar amounts in appropriations were set when the joint powers agreement was first authorized. A sunset period for the task force, one in which a new agreement would be needed to supercede the one in existence, was not put in place.

Participating local government units do, however, have the right to give notice that they want to withdraw. The time period was shortened this year to 90 days.

“In a sense, each member agreed to an annual appropriation,” Smith said. “It’s governed under the terms of the current joint powers agreement.”

Gunnink, who has served as a county commissioner since January, 2017, said she hasn’t been given a copy of the agreement. Thiner questioned the extent of Murray County’s financial obligation and said he needs to know what actions the county board could choose to take under the agreement’s terms.

“I have no issues with the goals of the drug task force,” Thiner said. “The cost paid by Murray County taxpayers compared to what the other counties pay is an issue. It’s a question of what we should do if we don’t like it.”

Landsman advised the board that a short delay in payment of yearly funding won’t affect the law enforcement efforts of the drug task force. He said no deadline exists for payment since until this spring funding proportions haven’t been an issue.

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