Upgraded radios for Newton first responders

NEWTON, Kansas – The city approved funding for its police and fire departments Tuesday to upgrade their radio systems to integrate with the state, but will come at a cost to some taxpayers.

As part of its annual budget approval, the city approved a request for almost $450,000 for upgraded radios for the city’s first responders. For the last year-and-a-half, they were not working as well because of an FCC mandate to use less bandwidth. The radios will be funded through a one mill property tax increase. Most other funding requests, such as for additional city staff, did not make the final budget.

“We just felt like we could limp along, but this was something that needed to be addressed, therefore, the 2015 budget does include a mill increase for radios,” Lunda Asmani, Newton’s assistant city manager, said.

Harvey County officials said in May that the practice of using less bandwidth, known as “narrowbanding,” had led to a more than 40 percent drop in coverage area, affecting areas all across the county. The county’s share of upgrading its system was estimated then at $3.2 million, with the cities or grants picking up the remainder.

Newton officials said the request had to be met for public safety reasons, with stories of radios not working under trees or in buildings around the city.

“It’s a tremendous safety risk,” Newton Police Chief Jim Daily said. “Our officers’ lives are at stake, and we have the lives of our citizens to contend with. If something happens and we can’t transmit on a radio, we’ve got real problems.”

With this budget approval, the city fire and police departments should be getting those new radios in the new year.

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