Upgrade about half of the radios or purchase cell phones for all of the highway department employees is a question the Greene County Commissioners are contemplating.
On Monday, Commissioner Rick Graves brought the proposal options to the Greene County Council as an informational item that doesn't need their approval.
The topic did provide for some discussion.
The highway department presently has 43 radios in vehicles, the garages, and shops. Due to new Federal Communication Commission narrow bandwidth regulations that change Jan. 1, 2013, 21 of those radios purchased prior to 1996 will need to be replaced because their bandwidth is not adjustable.
Radios manufactured after 1996 are equipped with adjustable bandwidth controls and can be used after the new regulations start.
The highway department does have 22 radios, newer than 1996, that can be adjusted and can be used after Jan. 1.
Graves said the department has a quote to replace the 21 radios, repeater transmitter, and work to reset the adjustable radios at a cost of $21,348.
Graves also pointed out that the highway department currently has four cell phones ---- one for the superintendent and each of the three district foreman at a cost of $1,680 a year.
The cost to upgrade the radios and continue the cell phone service is $23,328.
"We don't have that much money in the budget so we will have to come back with an additional appropriation if we decide to go that route," Graves stated.
Graves said it's a question of money on which way to go.
Highway department superintendent Brent Murray has suggested, according to Graves, to give each employee a basic cell phone with no long distance, caller ID, voice mail, texting or other options and do away with the radios.
It's a basic phone that could be used for communication in the field, rather than the radios, Graves noted.
The cost of 30 commercial grade cell phones with a basic AT&T, 120-minute package to talk to "landlines" and unlimited mobile-to-mobile service would cost $8,406 a year or about $700 a month.
"It looks like we could either spend $23,000 and get our radios all upgraded or we could spend $8,000 and do away with the radios and do the cell phones. It appears to me that we would get almost three years of cell phone bills out of that $23,000 for the radios. I think it's the opinion of the highway department that it would make them more efficient," Graves pointed out. "Now we have radios in all of the pieces of equipment and you need to go find a piece of equipment if you want to call (by radio). With the cell phone plan, each man who works for the highway department would a cell phone with him no matter what piece of equipment he was using."
Graves said there was some initial concern about coverage, but said that problem has been rectified for the most part in recent years. He noted that there are areas in the county where radio coverage is also limited.
"Cell phone coverage is probably as good as radio coverage," Graves said.
"A couple nice things about the cell phones is we could contact those individuals (who work for the highway department) without using their personal cell phones or without calling them at home (on a conventional telephone)."
Councilman Ed Michael pointed out that some of the radios have lasted more than 15 years and over the course of the same time period, the cost of cell phone service would be $126,000 versus $23,000 for the (upgrade) to the radios.
Graves also noted that the 23 radios, which were purchased after 1996, will also have to be replaced so there will be another $25,000 cost involved if the department stays with radio communication.
Commissioner Hal Harp suggested since most cell phone packages are set up with unlimited mobile-to-mobile talk minutes, why couldn't the employees just use their personal cell phones and eliminate the use of the radios all together.
"If you've got a cell phone and you've got unlimited talk, why would you need two cell phones? I am sure there are a lot of places that all the workers have cell phones and their companies don't pay for them," Harp said.
Graves, who owns a plumbing construction business, noted, "I buy cell phones for my employees and they carry two."
Council President Ed Cullison said some companies pay a percent of the bill, "like $10 a month" or something like that to use personal phones on company business.
"It's not a simple question," Cullison added.