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Legal issues cleared up on 911 system project

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO State Center Fire Chief Brad Pfantz tells the Marshall County Board of Supervisors about communication problems fire departments experienced during the Thursday fire in Marshalltown. He also provided the board with updates on the improvement project.

Steve Center Fire Chief Brad Pfantz told the Marshall County Board of Supervisors about some communication problems fire departments experienced during the Thursday 18th Avenue blaze in Marshalltown.

“There were eight, maybe nine departments in the county that responded to help Marshalltown — very similar to the tornado — and out of those 30 to 40 volunteers that were on scene for that fire, only one could talk to the command post and Chief Cross because our communication systems do not work together and that creates a very serious safety issue for volunteers that receive no pay,” he said.

Pfantz also gave the Marshall County Board of Supervisors an update on the emergency communications update project during the regular meeting on Tuesday.

He wanted to talk to attorney Kristen Stone with Ahlers & Cooney of Des Moines, about the project. Stone was hired to overlook the contract between the county and RACOM — the Marshalltown business chosen to improve the outdated system. The president of RACOM is Mike Miller, who is also married to Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller.

“I wanted to make sure she had all the information to make the most informed decision she could and give us the right legal direction to make sure everything was on the up and up,” Pfantz said.

One concern Pfantz had was the breaking of the civil responsibilities, which would increase the amount of time and money the county would have to spend, which are some things he said Marshall County does not have.

Pfantz said the county does not have the people readily available to quickly take care of the design aspect of the project. He said the Iowa counties that have used consultants to do analyses of the communication systems would get reports that the systems were failing. Pfantz said that was something Marshall County does not need to do as they are aware of the inadequacies.

“We are not starting at ground zero like everyone else, hence the reason we did not go down the consultant path initially,” he said.

Going through civil responsibilities, Pfantz said they would look at everything RACOM was providing, such as checking on FAA paths and avoiding possible burial grounds.

The possible conflict of interest between the Millers is something Stone addressed in a letter to the county. Pfantz said the conflict of interest does not come into play. He said the pay or duties of employment for the county employee — Jennifer Miller — would not be impacted.

Pfantz said Mike Miller did not have anything to do with the procurement or preparation of the contract with Marshall County, therefore it would not be prohibited by Iowa law.

“I can guarantee he had no involvement for this very reason,” he said. “Our contact with RACOM has been Diana Richardson, the business development manager.”

Pfantz said Stone agreed there was no conflict of interest.

The bidding component is going to be required as RACOM does not have the necessary dirt moving and concrete equipment to build the towers.

“Everything is good to go from that standpoint,” Pfantz said.

Supervisor Dave Thompson said he would like to get all of the information from Stone, rather than just taking the word of Pfantz.

Supervisor Bill Patten asked if the towers were pre-engineered and if they are set up like a Morton building. Supervisor Steve Salasek said that would be a question for Richardson. Thompson asked if contractors are involved, if the price for the county would be reduced.

Pfantz said the $895,000 figure in the original proposal, is the RACOM estimate of what the contractors would bid, based on previous projects.

Salasek asked if any more thought had been put into funding the project, but Thompson said he would like to get all necessary signatures on the papers first.

The effort to upgrade the Marshall County 911 system began in December 2019 when State Center Fire Chief Brad Pfantz approached the Board of Supervisors and told them it was rapidly failing. He proposed a 12- to 18-month $3 million contact with RACOM. The proposal suggested the county construct the necessary infrastructure — the towers — and the individual emergency response departments in Marshall County would be responsible for radios and pagers.

The Board of Supervisors did not have any immediate plans on how to finance the project. The members decided in October to borrow $2.7 million from the Health Fund to pay for it.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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