Partners support Prince Edward County’s radio plan

Published 4:06 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

FARMVILLE – It’s not going to be cheap to get every department in Prince Edward County on the same radio system. What the groups, and the county’s other partners can agree on, is that this radio plan is needed, especially during situations like we’ve experienced this week. During storm cleanup, responding to accidents and other needed calls, it helps to have firefighters and police able to talk to each other over the phone. 

But, as we reported back at the end of December, that doesn’t always happen in Prince Edward. The reason is because each department runs on its own system, some of which were purchased 30 years ago and can’t connect with each other. When fire departments venture into the Prospect and Pamplin areas, there are some places where the signal drops and they can’t call.

That’s especially problematic when you’re trying to coordinate a response to a fire or a storm-related accident. Fire departments can’t talk directly to the sheriff’s office or Farmville police. Farmville police can’t even talk directly car to car. All the agencies can monitor the sheriff’s channel but can’t respond to a request. Currently, an agency has to call in to the Farmville Emergency Communications Center. Then in turn, those dispatchers have to call the different agencies and pass on the message. That takes up time and it’s not feasible when dealing with a situation. Plus, even when the system can be used, it struggles. 

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And so that brings us to the current solution. Prince Edward staff want to buy one new system and bring every agency on it. That means the Farmville Police Department, the Prince Edward Sheriff’s Office, the Longwood Police Department, the Hampden-Sydney Police Department and all fire and rescue operations in the area. Prince Edward’s Public Works and Solid Waste departments would also be included, with space available to include the school system in the future. 

Radio plan brings heavy price 

Now here’s where the concerns pop up. This isn’t a cheap solution. This total package will cost $7.22 million, split between Prince Edward, the Town of Farmville, Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College. Prince Edward’s portion would be 77% of the cost, as it has the most agencies involved. That would add up to $5.57 million. Farmville’s portion would be 20% or $1.41 million, with the hope that Longwood would pay $167,664 and Hampden-Sydney would contribute $64,486. 

Now the county did get a $1 million grant to help cover the cost, so that reduces the bill for everyone involved. With that grant, the county’s portion will be $4.8 million, with Farmville paying $1.21 million. Longwood would pay $144,450 and Hampden-Sydney would cover $55,557. 

The different groups say they recognize the need and want to help. The discussions just aren’t finished yet. 

“The county did reach out and is in discussions with the appropriate personnel at the college,” said Justin McGregor, Hampden-Sydney College’s Vice President for Marketing. “We hope to be able to participate.” 

The Town of Farmville doesn’t have an answer yet, only because the council hasn’t discussed the issue. Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis said he plans to bring the issue to the group’s February 7 work session. 

As for Longwood, university spokesman and Associate Vice President of Communications Matt McWilliams said school officials have been and want to continue to be part of the discussions on this. 

“Longwood has been involved in discussions around a unified radio communications system in Prince Edward County from the earliest days and certainly sees the value that move would bring to our countywide emergency communications,” McWilliams said. “We are eager to continue to be good community partners as specifics are finalized and the system is put in place.” 

What’s next? 

Back during their Dec. 12 meeting, Prince Edward supervisors unanimously voted to move forward with the radio plan. But even with that accomplished, there’s still some work to be done. As Davis mentioned, the Farmville Town Council hasn’t even officially heard the request yet in a work session. After that happens, they would need to take a vote in the next public meeting. And while the other groups support the radio plan, contracts aren’t signed, sealed and delivered just yet.