State will provide two towers; service in Williston, Lower Suwannee should see marked improvement

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Law enforcement officers in Williston and the Lower Suwannee area will be able to hear each other on their 800 Mhz portable radios in those areas and in some buildings, but not all, after the state pays to build two radio towers to carry the signal for the State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS).
That was the news from the Levy County Commission and Sheriff’s Office provider on Tuesday, even though the announcement caused some skepticism.
A.J. Smith of Williams Communications, said his company had gotten permission from the state — using money in this year’s state budget — to build a tower in Williston, an area plagued with poor reception issues since the Sheriff’s Office went to SLERS for its communications.
“With the site in Williston you are going to have better in-building coverage,” Smith said.
Commissioners Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 3) and Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) asked if the new tower will solve the problem with reception inside a building.
“You will see a dramatic increase in coverage,” Smith said. He and Bryan Kocher, a vice president at Williams, said that the system is proven and works well. “You can refine it to meet your needs,” Kocher said.
“This is a really big win for service . . . (The tower) will cost about $1 million.”
“This seems like a sales pitch,” said Commission Chair Danny Stevens of Williston (D-District 5). “And I’m wondering why.” Later in the meeting Stevens said the county had always worked to improve communications in the Williston area, “But I find it amazing the flurry that has come out lately.”
He said none of the projects has been suggested by the county to the state. “And now a tower is going up in Williston,” he said.
Smith did tell the board that he is interested in getting the board’s business for the fire and ems paging system which is moving to narrowband in January.
“We have to do paging and SLERS doesn’t do that,” Stephens said. But Smith and Kocher said they had some ideas they would like to present to the board.
The county is under a Federal Communications mandate to convert its fire and emergency medical service radios and pagers to a narrowband frequency — something that does not work on the 800 Mhz system — by Jan. 1.
The county expects to spend about $900,000 on the infrastructure and equipment to meet the mandate and avoid fines for any delay.