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Hall County officials eye sales tax extension to fund e-911 upgrades
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Local government officials are sounding the alarm on Hall County’s aging emergency 911 systems.

They have made upgrading the communications network a top spending priority if voters approve a new round of special purpose local option sales tax in March.

But there are scant details about a contingency plan to pay for $12.5 million in necessary upgrades if voters shoot down a five-year extension of the 1 percent sales tax.

Officials have identified three critical areas for upgrades: the e-911 telephone system, the radio console system and the public safety communications system.

The phone system, which handles all 911 calls, and which officials describe as the “heart of the network,” is essentially obsolete.

Gail Lane, Hall County 911 director, said the system reached the end of its useful life more than four years ago.

Parts for the system are no longer manufactured, and only used stock parts are available when maintenance is necessary.

Moreover, the system that shows the location of 911 calls, which officials describe as the “brains of the network,” is also more than four years out of date.

Its component parts are no longer installed or supported by today’s technology, yet Hall County remains dependent on them.

The county is also using the Windows XP operating system, which software officials said is now obsolete, to track calls on emergency operators’ computer screens.

The Motorola radio console system also runs on Windows XP, and officials said the company discontinued upgrades to the radio system in 2009.

Finally, officials said the public safety communications system, which allows fire and police to coordinate with the 911 center, requires software and infrastructure upgrades.

Officials said emergency response times are significantly delayed and compromised because its modem systems, located at remote sites across the county, are out of date.

Officials said they fear the county emergency communication systems could go “dark” if these modems shut down.

New heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems are also needed to keep remote connection points from overheating, which could also cause a collapse of the system.

The county is allowed to take up to 20 percent of total SPLOST collections for level two projects, which have a countywide benefit.

The e-911 upgrades fit this criterion.

Officials are still eyeing a July 1, 2015, date for the tax to take effect since the current SPLOST VI expires next year.

The latest revenue projection for SPLOST VII, which would last five years, stands at $158 million.

Officials said they would be working on contingency plans to pay for the upgrades if SPLOST VII fails at the ballot box.

But there is no clearly identified revenue source to cover this cost at this time.