Radio repeater at issue in Chapel Hill

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Alderman Tom Lawrence, left, wants more information about whether the county and/or Chapel Hill need a radio repeater the town's been funding. Alderman Marion Joyce is at right.

CHAPEL HILL -- The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has agreed to continue to pay the additional $50 per month charged by Marshall County's sheriff for reports from the National Crime Information Center's computer database.

However, the board's discussion with Chief Deputy Billy Lamb and Sheriff Norman Dalton's communications officer, Katie Burk, who went to Chapel Hill's Town Hall last week, came with another request that broadened the discussion.

The town has maintained a police radio signal repeater and that transmitter may be of value to the county. If it's not, and if it's found to be redundant for the town, then there's no reason to spend money on maintenance for it, according to discussion in Town Hall on Jan. 19.

Alderman Tom Lawrence asked Burk if she could "study" the situation and report back to the mayor and aldermen. It seemed clear there was no disagreement on that point.

The $50 monthly fee was what brought the law officers and the town leaders together.

Chapel Hill had an agreement with Les Helton when he was sheriff with regard to county dispatchers relaying information from the National Crime Information Center. NCIC is the recognized source of a great deal of information needed by law enforcement officers while on patrol. Perhaps the most common request is for a criminal background report on a driver of a vehicle that's just been stopped and the name of the car's owner.

There was no monthly NCIC fee charged when Helton was sheriff, but in the later years of his administration, county costs increased and they could not be passed along to the municipalities - Cornersville included - because the operational agreement between departments was good as long as the departments' leaders were in office. Now that Dalton has succeeded Helton, the new agreement is different.

Chapel Hill officials balked at the idea of paying for a service it was getting at no charge, but Burk explained the county was being charged more through its agreement with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that serves as the conduit between local governments and the NCIC.

Chapel Hill Administrator Mike Hatten explained that Burk sent a letter to the town about the monthly fees in September. Dalton took office Sept. 1.

Without the $50 payment, Chapel Hill officers might not have been provided NCIC information. The service continued through Jan. 1 when the new contract was to start.

Since then, questions were raised about the fee, service and the radio signal repeater's transmitter, tower and maintenance costs.

Some town leaders took the position that Chapel Hill shouldn't have to pay for NCIC information because town residents pay county property taxes.

"Our relationship with the Sheriff's Department is good," Hatten said.

He's also realized that the fee is legal, but said, "I know some of us see it this way: Just because it's legal doesn't make it right."

Furthermore, the town has paid $2,800 to Arrow Enterprises to keep the repeater operational and some $5,500 to get the repeater in place, Hatten explained.

That led to the mayor's observation.

"We cannot do without the service," Mayor Carl Cooper said. "And you cannot work without a back up" radio transmitter.

What, Hatten asked, would happen if the Chapel Hill repeater failed?

A "west repeater," Burke said, would serve the area.

Cooper asked if a "back up" was required. Burk was uncertain.

There's another alternative.

Lewisburg's emergency radio system could be used, Lamb said.

So, Cooper asked, "Are we paying for something we don't need?"

Burk didn't have an answer.

Is the repeater "useless?" Hatten asked.

Burk offered an explanation on how officers could switch channels to provide some security.

But Alderman Marion Joyce picked up on Cooper's point.

"Are we spending $600 a year on electricity that's a waste?" Joyce asked.

Volunteer firefighters' needs were considered, and automatic switches were mentioned, but the mayor's point prevailed.

"If we have something that is of no value," Cooper said, "we should tune into the one [frequency] you have [for the sheriff's department] all the time..."

Joyce seconded Alderman Horace Hill's motion to pay the monthly fee, but the vote wasn't taken until Lawrence asked Burk to investigate the county's need for the town's repeater.

"It may be to your advantage to have it working," he said.