County Closer to Funding VIPER System?
BY TED M. NATT JR.
Pinehurst Police Chief Earl Phipps is pleased that the Moore County Board of Commissioners has apparently moved closer to funding VIPER because he knows from personal experience that it works.
"We had it up and running in Greenville before the 2008 presidential election and it worked extremely well," said Phipps, who headed up the local security detail for each candidate that stumped throughout Pitt County.
Phipps said law-enforcement officers in the county are on the same channel with the State Highway Patrol, the FBI and the Secret Service.
"So I knew when the plane landed, when the motorcade left the airport, and the status all along the route to each campaign stop," he said. "All of that stuff worked seamlessly on VIPER."
While Phipps admitted that no system is infallible, he said Moore County commissioners need to decide as soon as possible so first responders in the county can test the system.
"In Pitt County, we figured out where the weaknesses were over a couple of weeks, tweaked things, and then everything was wonderful," he said. "We had similar concerns and questions to those being raised here, but we were able to work out all the bugs before we pushed the system out countywide."
Last Tuesday, Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons asked members of the Board of Commissioners to say what their comfort level was in committing to funding VIPER for everyone - at an estimated cost of $5 million - because he is preparing the town's 2012-2013 budget and needs an answer.
"There is interest to pick up the cost," Commissioner Tim Lea said, "but we have to figure out how before we vote."
Parsons was satisfied with the response.
"The commissioners appear committed to the concept of funding the implementation of VIPER for everyone," he said. "Therefore, I will not need to set aside additional funds in the budget to ensure the town's ability to utilize the system."
Commissioner Nick Picerno said one funding option would be to lower the county ALS tax rate from 2 cents per $100 of assessed value to 1.25 cents while increasing the county property tax rate from 46.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 47.25 cents. The change would be set for three years and would raise $2.7 million. Then the tax rate would revert back to initial levels.
"And the net effect on the taxpayer would be zero," Picerno said. "To me, this is a public safety issue, and we should be using public safety funding wherever possible."
VIPER has been chosen by the county to meet an unfunded mandate handed down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Earlier this month, the county's first responders took the county commissioners to task for agreeing last month to approach municipalities to share a portion of the bill to implement VIPER, saying the decision "came as a total surprise to the majority" of them.
Southern Pines Fire Chief Hampton Williams then asked them to "fund 100 percent of this initiative."
On Tuesday, several speakers rehashed the VIPER program for almost two hours before Williams got up and moved to the lectern.
"I'm amazed and surprised that a simple request for funding turned into beating a dead horse," he said. "We don't have time to back up at this point. We need this thing implemented. We need time to train. Let's get this thing up and running."
VIPER, or Voice Interoperability Plan for Emergency Responders, is managed by the State Highway Patrol for all responders across the state. The FCC issued the changeover mandate because of recent increases in emergency communications channels and the need to keep the airways as open as possible because of growth in population and use of emergency communications equipment.
Almost every fire, rescue, ambulance and law enforcement agency in Moore County will use the VIPER system.
In other action Tuesday, the board:
- Approved grant project ordinances for the Moore County Airport.
- Appointed Bobby Phillips to the Land Use Plan Steering Committee, and appointed William Cochrane and John Parker as ex-officio members of the committee.
- Appointed Jim Thomas and Bruce Yarrington to the Board of Equalization and Review for three-year terms expiring March 2015, and appointed Jim McNiff as board chairman for the 2012-2013 session.
- Appointed Robert Williams as the industry representative to the Local Emergency Planning Committee for a three-year term expiring March 2015.
- Called a special meeting March 6 at 3 p.m. to discuss water options.
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