OXFORD, Ga. — Next summer, public safety radio dead spots across Newton County will be no more.
County officials and first responders gathered outside Newton County Fire Station No. 9, located at 176 Mt. Zion Road in Oxford, on Thursday to break ground on the construction of the first of three towers that will help take the county’s public safety communications system to new heights.
In June 2020, the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with Motorola for a new emergency radio system. Despite an initial estimate of $3.6 million, the radio system costs upwards of $14 million to install, according to County Manager Lloyd Kerr, but is being paid for, in part, by SPLOST funding.
“Every time you and everybody else spends a dollar here in the county, a penny goes to help support projects just like this, which will help our community be a safer and better place to be, so we thank everyone for that,” he said.
Kerr said the new radio system would boost the county’s radio coverage up to 98%, “and give us the ability to talk in places that we never had the ability to communicate before.”
“This is a great moment for us,” Kerr said during the ceremony.
However, after the ceremony concluded, Sheriff Ezell Brown told The Covington News he remembered a time when the radio system was first-class with an expanded coverage area. He was excited to see the county’s communications return to that level.
“What I see today is coverage like we once had,” Brown said. “I can speak of that from, I guess, the dinosaur era – back about 48 years ago when we could talk from one end of the county to the other end of the county. We could talk from one county to the next county. And we have talked from the base station to a car station, from Newton County all the way to Perry, Georgia. So I feel that Motorola is going to put us back where we should have been all along.
“My position is: we got to where we are today by agreeing and disagreeing,” he continued. “That is what put us where we are today, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud to know that the equipment and the tools that the dispatchers are going to have is going to be state of the art. That said, they’re no better than the equipment they’re having to use. So, I’m excited about it.”
Brown said he believed the current coverage was below 50% for the entire county.
To open the ceremony, Chairman Marcello Banes recalled a conversation he had about five years ago, shortly after he was elected, concerning the need for an improved radio system.
“I remember one call that I got from the police chief in Porterdale, and he said, ‘Mr. Chairman, we got a few dead spots in Porterdale, and we really need to get that addressed,’” Banes said. “I want to say, today, we are taking the first steps in making that happen.”
Covington Mayor Steve Horton, who is a former police officer, gave his thoughts on the importance of a sound communications system.
“I have a little bit of a public safety background, so I understand how important and vital 911 is to all of us — not just those in public safety, but all of us,” Horton said. “Much like a bridge connects an island to the main land, E-911 operation connects our citizens and our businesses within this community to the people and agencies — generally public safety agencies — who can help them in times of need and crisis. Therefore, E-911 personnel who answer the phones and man the radios are often the first and sometimes the last call that’s made when people need help the worst. During those times, competent, well-trained personnel and adequate equipment and support structures, such as we are here for today, are absolutely vital to a positive outcome.”
Horton also voiced his appreciation for local first responders and thanked them for their service to the community.
“You work in a very stressful environment, and sometimes a very thankless environment, but I want you to know that what you do is vital to all of us in our community,” he said. “You know, everybody can’t do the jobs you do.”
911 Director Trudy Henry, who was publicly lauded for helping lead the charge on the new radio system, spoke briefly during the ceremony. She implored how grateful she was to the county’s leaders and all who had a role in the project thus far.
“The public safety radio system is an important part of my daily job, and it’s important that these guys standing around in uniforms are safe and know that when they make a call, they can get it out and let us know what they need,” she said. “This is exciting. It’s been a lot of hard work, and there’s a lot more work to come.”
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders was also on hand for the groundbreaking. She talked about spending time with Henry recently as part of a “county tour” she had taken to learn about the roles of each department. She also displayed her gratitude to county’s leaders for coming together and seeing the project through.
“I’ve had the opportunity to sit with [Henry] and her staff for an hour to watch what they do,” she said. “I’ve had a county tour and visited every department in the county and sat wit them for an hour or more to find out what they do. As [Henry] knows I love technology, and so I’m excited about this opportunity to be able to advance with Newton County, advance in District 3 and advance with your department, Trudy. So whatever it is with technology I am here for it. So thank you Motorola for bringing us up to the next level, and thank you Newton County and my fellow board of commissioners and the chairman for allowing this to happen.”
Project consultants said the new radio system was expected to be up and running by “this time next year.”