ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County commissioners are expected to consider an almost $8 million project to build a new 800 megahertz tower in the southern part of the county.

Berrien County 911 Director Caitlin Sampsell told commissioners On Oct. 28 that the plan from Motorola needs to be approved by the end of the next week or the cost could increase dramatically.

“The price that we’ve been provided with now is incentive pricing and includes a state discount, so we need to move fast in order to secure that pricing,” she said. “It’s also important for the timeliness of getting the project done. We have this need down there and the longer we push it out, the longer it’s going to take. We’ve seen prices increasing substantially and delays on equipment being able to be brought in.”

She said the company has extended the incentive pricing through the end of next week.

Most of the project will be paid for with $5 million that was added to the state’s 2022 budget, which was approved in September.

Administrator Brian Dissette said he’s proposing that the county use some of the money it expects to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to complete covering the cost of the project.

“The one big question mark on this project is – are we going to end up moving our 911 operation center?” he said.

Dissette said he recommends proceeding with the contract, knowing that all of the details haven’t been worked out yet. The county’s 911 center is currently on Empire Avenue in Benton Township.

For years, the county has been working to switch its VHF public safety radio system to the Michigan Public Safety Communication System, which is 800 MHz. Sampsell said a signal tower built earlier this year on top of Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet, has dramatically improved coverage in the northern part of the county.

Sampsell said all of the police departments, except for Niles, switched to the 800 MHz system years ago. The county has been helping fire departments get grants and low-interest loans so they can make the switch.

She said only a couple of ambulance services need to switch to 800 MHz pagers.

Commissioners passed a resolution in November 2019 stating that the county intends to dismantle the VHF system by the end of 2022.

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