County moves forward with radio project

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

May 3, 2023

The Hill County Commissioners Court discussed unexpected radio system expenses last week as work continues to improve emergency communications in the county. The court also scheduled a public hearing on the creation of a reinvestment zone for a solar company and reviewed other county business during the regular meeting held Tuesday, April 25.

In January, commissioners discussed radio coverage issues in the Blum area and approved adding the county’s radio equipment to Oncor’s existing tower in the area. The decision was made after considering the expense and length of time it would take for the county to construct its own tower.

Hill County Emergency Management Radio Administrator Chris Jackson told the court that it has now been discovered that modifications will be needed to the Oncor tower to accommodate the equipment.

Jackson said that due to restrictions on the Oncor property, the county can only use certain vendors for its equipment, and the county’s current provider, Nextlink, is not a vendor that is allowed on the property. He reported that a verbal agreement has been reached with Oncor to have one of the company’s vendors install the Nextlink microwave equipment, which would cost $9,775. The cost of two microwaves for the tower comes to $16,200, and the structural analysis quote from Oncor was $15,800.

Jackson said that another requested expenditure involves a critical weak point that has been discovered in the radio system that at times has caused dispatch to go down in storms when the link from the main tower to the sheriff’s office was blown out of alignment. Adding a backup link would create the necessary redundancy, and Jackson requested $10,000 in reserve funds to be applied to this project if needed.

Jackson also reported that the county’s new 800 Mhz system is being used, with 180,441 transmissions logged in the previous 45 days.

In total, Jackson requested and received approval for an unbudgeted expense of $50,000 to address all of the issues he brought before the court. The majority of the overall project has been covered by grant funds, and County Judge Justin Lewis said that grant funds will be used to pay for future work on the project.

Commissioners also granted Lewis the authority to continue negotiating the tower lease agreement with Oncor as long as the previously approved fees are unchanged.

In related agenda items, two more radio agreements were approved for area entities. Covington Volunteer Fire Department signed an agreement to utilize the new system and pay the required fees, and a mutual aid agreement with the City of West was approved that will allow the county and West to communicate via their radio systems if needed.

The court also set a public hearing on the creation of a reinvestment zone for Leitsol, LLC. Lewis said that the company has a Chapter 313 agreement with Hillsboro Independent School District for its planned solar project west of Hillsboro near Peoria.

Creation of a reinvestment zone is a step that must be taken before the county can offer a tax abatement to the company. Lewis reemphasized that the county is entering into the agreements to ensure that road use agreements are in place to protect county roads.

The public hearing will be held Tuesday, May 23, during the court’s regular meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m.

A road repair and use agreement was also approved at the meeting for a solar company that already has an agreement with the county. The agreement ensures that Hill Solar’s project, located north of Hillsboro in the Itasca Independent School District, will not damage county roads. Engineering assessments of roads, bridges and culverts in the area established a baseline, and the company will be required to keep them in at least their current condition.

A fuel bid from Dixie LP-Gas was approved for Precinct 2 and Precinct 3. The court recently approved bids for supplies, including fuel, for the coming year, but sought fuel bids again in these precincts due to a miscommunication with a vendor.

Commissioners also approved a request for the sale of fireworks for Memorial Day, which is an optional period of fireworks sales that can be approved by counties.

The court approved several agenda items relating to paperwork for a grant that the Post Oak Water Supply is seeking from the Texas Department of Agriculture. The county can act as an agent to allow water supply districts to help them seek grant funds. If received, the money will be used for waterline improvements.

A memorandum of understanding was renewed with the Children’s Advocacy Center. The agreement allows the center to operate in office space provided by the county and assist children who have been victims of sexual crimes. The office is currently located in the Franklin Street annex and will move to the Covington Street annex when renovations are complete.

Commissioners also approved a preliminary plat for the Mayspring Subdivision, which involves about five lots near Woodbury.

After an executive session to discuss possible litigation, the court reconvened and accepted an offer for the county to purchase property at 212 West Walnut Street for $75,000.

The court’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, May 9, at 8:30 a.m. in the Hill County Courtroom of the courthouse.

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