County moves forward on communications alliance

Posted 5/26/20

Madison County Commissioners approved changes Monday to an interlocal agreement to join the Brazos Valley Wide Area Communications System, another step to linking the Sheriff’s Department, Madisonville Police Department, the county’s three volunteer fire departments and all other first responders to those in surrounding counties.

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County moves forward on communications alliance

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Madison County Commissioners approved changes Monday to an interlocal agreement to join the Brazos Valley Wide Area Communications System, another step to linking the Sheriff’s Department, Madisonville Police Department, the county’s three volunteer fire departments and all other first responders to those in surrounding counties.

BVWACS, a partnership between cities, counties and Texas A&M University, operates a seven-site public safety trunked radio system that links law enforcement entities, fire departments and medical crews across a wider area than possible before.

For Madison County, it will also eradicate existing “dead zones” where radio and other communications fail from lack of connection with the addition of a new microwave tower.

Initial outlay for equipment to join the multi-county system will total around $80,0000, Madison County Emergency Management Coordinator Shelly Butts told commissioners Monday at their regular meeting. Other costs moving forward have been cut due to grants received by the state.

“We should be able to get onto the system for under $200,000,” Butts told commissioners. “Originally, we thought it could be a half million.”

Commissioners initially approved joining BVWACS in February.

The system would replace an aging county communications infrastructure, including dispatch panels and upgrade computer dispatch systems. The network would enable Madison County first responders to immediately connect with colleagues in Walker County or Brazos County.

“Literally, with the push of a button,” Butts told commissioners in Feburary. The current system requires a chain of phone calls between dispatchers, with messages getting muddied along the way, she said.

“This will bring us to the modern era of communications that we don’t currently have,” County Judge Tony Leago said Monday.

Commissioners also agreed Monday to refund $12,932.05 in property taxes to AXIP Energy Services, a direct result from a 2018 Texas Supreme Court ruling that changed the way counties and other entities around the state were taxing compressor equipment. Formerly, leased compressors in the county were taxes as personal property until the 2011 Texas legislature overrode the practice by adding leased heavy equipment to an formula based on lease revenue generated during the previous year.

AXIP had already been refunded current property taxes, but Monday’s refund was based on prior years. Other companies may follow suit, according to tax collector/assessor Karen Lane.

“Is this the end of it,” Leago asked Lane during Monday’s meeting.

“For this company,” she said.

Commissioners also agreed to join a federal program to provide guidelines for paying county employees on administrative leave to provide childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, though not until June 1.

Madison County employees under those conditions have been receiving full pay during isolation orders and the federal guidelines would reduce that to 2/3 pay. Three county employees who live in Huntsville use childcare facilities that don’t plan to reopen until June 1.

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