County receives larger grants than expected for 800 megahertz communication system

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer


Following the Federal Government’s mandate to establish an 800 megahertz (MHz) emergency services communication system, Morrison County bonded $1.54 million for equipment specifically for that project.

The Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) radio system was established to improve 911 service throughout the county.

Applications were made by the Morrison County Fire Chief’s Association for funding through the Regional Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. The total grant received was $941,631.94. The county matched 10 percent of the cost.

In the meantime, grant money has been received that exceeded expectations, said County Administrator Deb Gruber.

“In addition to the firefighters grant, Morrison County received nearly $500,000 in grants to fund various components of the ARMER radio system. Many of these grants have been obtained due to our staff being active on committees involved with emergency management, Homeland Security and other groups relating to the radio system.”

“Since deploying the 800 MHz system, we have worked diligently to seek out and apply for grants to help offset the costs and those efforts have paid off,” she said. “I have to give credit to Sheriff Michel Wetzel and his staff, primarily Communications Supervisor Jeff Jelinski, for recognizing the importance of being involved. It has led directly to a financial benefit for Morrison County.”

“We had determined the cost of the project, but then some unanticipated grant money came in,” County Finance Director Steve Messerschmidt said. “We are transferring some of the excess money into the debt service fund for early repayment of the notes. The grant funds can only be spent on equipment or debt service.”

The Morrison County Commissioners approved the transfer of $165,505 into the debt service fund at Monday’s meeting, for repayment of the debt.

“Due to the unexpected grant money coming into the county to offset project costs, we have unused proceeds from the debt issued and can now use those funds to pay down the debt earlier than originally expected,” said Gruber.

Although the system is up and running, there is still some work to be completed on a building near the water tower in north Little Falls.

“In order to improve coverage, we needed to boost reception in Morrison County,” said Jelinski. “The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), city of Little Falls and the county at one time thought we could build a cabinet on the site of the water tower, but later decided that wouldn’t work. MnDOT provided a small pre-wired building near the site to house antennas for the system, built to their specifications.”

Since work on that facility still needs to be finished, about $400,000 was left in the communication system fund to cover expenses, said Messerschmidt.