Cumberland supervisors sign off on radio plan, turn to State Police

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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The radio problems Cumberland County departments are dealing with should be fixed within a few months. By a unanimous vote in their Monday, March 18 work session, supervisors approved staff’s plan to partner with the Virginia State Police (VSP) on a new project. 

Cumberland will basically become a tenant on the VSP system, using their network. Now Cumberland purchases all of the needed equipment, but there are no new radio towers needed. They will use the current towers in Cumberland, Louisa and Prince Edward for signal. 

“This will give us 99% (coverage),” said Cumberland Fire Chief Andy Aigner. “I never want to say 100%, but this gets us close. We will be able to talk to anybody we want to.” 

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He pointed out the system will allow communication with up to 250 groups, which more than covers local needs. The county’s current radio system is used by virtually every department, from the sheriff’s office to dispatch, fire and rescue administration, volunteer fire departments, EMS providers, animal protection and public works. And the problem, much like the issue Prince Edward has been dealing with, is the fact there are areas in the county where it’s hard to get a signal. That’s not the best when getting a 911 call or a request for backup. And so, Cumberland staff have been looking at options. 

“Our current system is antiquated,” Cumberland County Administrator Derek Stamey said. “We began evaluating a new radio system in the winter of 2021 (and) we evaluated multiple methods.” 

Option one involved upgrading the county’s own system. Option two would mean just using the existing towers with updated equipment, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Option three involved partnering with another jurisdiction, but in the end, working with State Police seemed like the best bet. 

Breaking down the radio deal 

One of the key parts for supervisors is that it won’t mean a tax increase to cover the cost. This is something that’s already been budgeted for, with money set aside over the last two years. In 2022, supervisors restructured current County debt to set aside $2 million to help fund the system. As we reported back in January, one of the reasons supervisors declined to build their own system, option one, is the cost. The final estimates for a brand new system owned and operated by Cumberland came to $4.5 million. 

Instead, latching on to the VSP system will cost a one-time payment of $2,037,044. Now yes, the county will buy the equipment and State Police will own it, as it would be on their system. But if Cumberland ever decided to end the agreement and turn the equipment in, they would be reimbursed by State Police. Under terms of the deal, State Police will also maintain Cumberland’s equipment. 

So to make this work, supervisors agreed to pay $2,003,087.91 from what was set aside and then $33,956.67 from the general fund. 

Now as for how long it’ll take to get this set up, you’ll need to wait a few months to see a change. Chief Aigner said they’ve already been in contact with State Police to identify everything needing to be purchased. That will all come out of the $2.03 million price point. Now that supervisors have signed off, they can buy the equipment and expect it to get here in about 12 weeks. 

“I’m hoping we’re on the system by the fall, late fall,” Aigner said. 

He pointed out that was a conservative number, adding he’d much rather be wrong and see it happen sooner. 

‘We all did our part’ 

County staff and supervisors said they were glad to see this moving forward. 

“This has been a two-year process,” Stamey told supervisors. “This is a project that touched every department, we all did our part to bring this one home.” 

Supervisors applauded the work Stamey, Chief Aigner and everyone else involved did, from researching options to crunching numbers and negotiating with the various groups. 

“The Board of Supervisors values public safety and it continues to be a high priority for the County,” said John Newman. He serves as Chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors. “Cumberland County values creative problem solving and working collaboratively with other regional and state agencies including the Virginia State Police. This is a major step forward in meeting the needs of our first responders.”