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County saving big during communications transition

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners met for the first time in their new board room in the renovated courthouse on Tuesday. From left are County Attorney Charles Glasrud, commissioners Herb Kloos, Larry Sayre, Don Munsterman, Paul Watzke and Ron Staples, and UMM's Lowell Rasmussen, who updated the board on plans for a second wind turbine near Pomme de Terre Park.

Government is often seen as a model of inefficiency, prone to over-spending and slow to recognize opportunity.

Apparently, that characterization would seem to not apply to the Stevens County Sheriff's Office's pursuit of Minnesota emergency communications mandates

The county not only will be in full compliance of state "narrow band" radio communications requirements by 2012, it will be doing so in a fairly economical fashion.

In fact, combined with a substantial grant this year to local fire departments, the county's grant haul to offset the costs for the new ARMER communications system means that taxpayers will have to pony up for a fraction of the $1.4 million operation.

Sheriff Randy Willis and Emergency Management Service Deputy Director Dona Greiner presented current dollar figures to the Stevens County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The Statewide Radio Board, created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2004, is charged with implement the Statewide Interoperable Public Safety Radio and Communication System Plan by 2012.

The goal, through systems like the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response, is to ensure that law enforcement and emergency management personnel in all Minnesota counties can be in direct and immediate contact. It's a response to the communications difficulties emergency responders experienced during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The inter-operability is what this is all about," Willis said.

Greiner's grant-writing skills and quick response in applying for grants, Willis said, has saved the county a great deal of money for state-of-the-art 800 megahertz radios, dispatch equipment and a new dispatch console that will be ordered for the new Law Enforcement Center at the county's renovated courthouse.

Of the $1.4 million needed for a fully functioning ARMER system, the county will need to pay only about $233,000 to match grant requirements. About $215,000 of that is a 50 percent match for a $215,000 ARMER integration grant to pay for the dispatch console, Willis said.

In addition, Greiner wrote a grant that brought in $250,000 for emergency management. Only six of the grants were awarded nationwide, Willis said.

"Dona has worked very, very hard on these grants," he said.

The Morris Area Fire Department also came up big with its grant writing, netting about $333,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for radios and related equipment for the Morris, Hancock, Chokio and Donnelly fire departments. The MFD, which will be a back-up dispatch center for the county, also has picked up additional money for equipment. When the system is completed, county, city, University of Minnesota, Morris and other emergency responders in the area will be in synch in terms of the new technology, Willis said.

The county can be commended for looking ahead to emergency communications needs and setting a course that made it possible to get in early on potential grants. Two years ago, the county opted to fully implement ARMER. Now, the county is getting its top-shelf system for about $100,000 less than what the least expensive of its four options would have cost, Willis said.

"To the board's credit, (it) didn't take the cheap way out," he said.

For more on other county board business, see the Sun Tribune Web site on Thursday afternoon at, or the Saturday print edition of the Sun Tribune, which over the two upcoming holiday weekends will be published on Fridays.