The boards of Selectmen and Finance last week unanimously approved funding for a $2.1 million radio communication update. The project includes installation of a new dispatch console, several new antennas in different locations throughout town, also the software for the new system, site work where required, as well as radios for Public Works employees.
Fire Chief Sean Rowland and Police Chief Frank Capiello in their presentation explained the need for the new equipment, saying the current simulcast radio system leaves significant portions of the town without radio contact. In addition, communication between the dispatcher and the first responders is frequently fraught with static. Chief Rowland reported to the fire commission recently that the dispatch console had dropped calls more than ten times during the first half of November, both for police and for fire department calls.
The equipment has reached the end of its useful life, said First Selectman Beth Heller in her opening statement at a special town meeting called for Tuesday, December 5, to approve the expenditure. Even though a postcard had been sent to all Woodbridge households, the turnout for the meeting was minimal, with about 25 in the audience, most of them town hall – or government related. Due to the lack of a quorum, the vote fell to the selectmen and the finance board members.
Heller said she had received several inquiries regarding the subject prior to the meeting, in particular related to the concern whether new phone towers may need to be constructed. That is not the case, she assured the audience, as the new antennas will be placed on existing structures.
Current towers are located at the police station, on Bradley Road and near the Transfer Station. This leaves large parts along the northern town line uncovered, as well as a wide swath along Peck Hill Road and an area east of Racebrook Road bordering the Merritt Parkway. An existing tower at Oak Lane Country Club is a receiver only.
The new system will go from three to six antennas to improve coverage throughout town. The plan is to abandon the transfer station site and instead hook onto a higher tower located in Seymour; also to add an antenna to a water company tank near the western town line; update the Oak Lane site to receive and transmit data; and hook onto the AT&T tower currently located off of Litchfield Turnpike, in addition to the police department site and the existing antenna on Bradley Road.
As for the hand-held radios, the current police radios and those of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services are compatible with the new system and need not be replaced, the fire chief said. Public Works employees, however, communicate by low-band radios, said department head Warren Connors. The system dates from the 1970s, and allows no direct communication with the first responders, even when the truck drivers are out plowing or assisting in clearing the roads after a weather event. A new set of portable, hand-held radios as well as mobile stations on the trucks will bring the Public Works Department into the communication loop.
Heller thanked those who had been working on the project, in particular Chief Rowland and Chief Cappiello, as well as an ad-hoc subcommittee called by her predecessor in office, Ellen Scalettar. The subcommittee had been charged with assessing the public safety communication needs, in particular as it relates to the dispatch console that is located at the police station. It is outdated and needs to be replaced. The subcommittee had voted unanimously to recommend the upgrade to the town leaders.
The console, which carries a price tag of about $500,000, is considered a priority, and will be ordered possibly this month. In fact, the town will use a state contract with the Motorola company to take advantage of a special incentive for this part of the project. The rest of the equipment and work will be bid out, said Finance Director Anthony Genovese. The funding will come from a bond issue.
In a presentation laying out the town’s debt, Genovese showed that with some old debt having been paid off, the added debt for the radio system will not lead to spikes in municipal expenditures.
Heller said she will establish a project oversight committee that will report to the Board of Selectmen. “I can assure you the selectmen will remain on top of this project,” she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent