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GRUCom increasing cost of public safety radio system could affect first responder departments

GRUCom has asked Alachua County to pay $1.6 million dollars to keep using the upgraded public safety radio system.
Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 6:25 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - GRUCom has asked Alachua County to pay $1.6 million dollars to keep using the upgraded public safety radio system.

Alachua County leaders said they had expected an increase in cost and budgeted $1.1 million dollars to cover it.

Now county leaders are shocked after receiving a letter from the utility this week asking them to pay the $1.6 million bill in 45 days.

“The public radio system is the lifeline for all of your public safety agencies in Alachua County,” Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Harold Theus said.

If the bill is not paid on time, agencies like Alachua County Fire Rescue and the Newberry Fire Department would not have access to the radio system.

“You would not have a fire truck respond to your home or a rescue unit or a police officer respond to a call. There would be no form, no method of communication without a radio system.,” Theus said.

GRUCom and Alachua County’s radio system agreement began in 1999 and expired in September 2020. A new agreement between the two has not been made since.

“The new agreement enables us to cover our costs, which is an equitable arrangement for GRUCom and the community at large,” said GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski. “It’s not fair to ask utility customers to continue subsidizing public safety radio, so we’re glad our subscribers support this change.”

GRU officials said they completed a $5 million upgrade to the system in 2018. They did not immediately increase prices, however, users will now be charged a subscription fee based on their percentage of talk time in the prior fiscal year compared to the total system minutes used.

In December, utility management made the decision to send Alachua County a letter, under the advisement of the city attorney, that asked the county to pay the bill.

County leaders said they understand costs must be covered but were surprised to hear they wanted it paid in 45 days.

“I think there’s really two issues, lets figure out what is owed from the past and let’s figure out what we want to do collectively going forward in the future and lets’s come together and work that out,” Alachua County Commission Chair Ken Cornell said.

The county commission did pass a resolution on Tuesday that said if there is an attempt to end the radio services before an agreement is made, the county could seek an injunction stopping the attempt until then.

“I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail. I’m hoping we’ll be able now to have some discussions with GRUCom and our other partners to make sure we can reach an agreement,” Theus said.

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