Minutes after placing a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot, the county Board of Supervisors early Wednesday voted to proceed with an $84-million emergency communications system that law enforcement officials said is needed to maintain public safety.
Construction of the Motorola radio network is expected to begin within the next few months despite the county bankruptcy, which for a time placed the 800-megahertz system in jeopardy.
Under an agreement approved by supervisors Wednesday, county officials and leaders from the 31 cities in the county will form a joint powers authority to control financing for the system, which would link all local law enforcement, fire and public works agencies onto one network.
Cities will contribute about 72% of the funding and the county will contribute 28%. As a result, cities will control about 72% of the seats on the JPA board, with the county controlling the remainder.
"The cities are the major partner, the county is the minor partner," said R.A. (Burt) Scott, director of the county's General Services Agency. "Because of the county's situation, cities will be fronting the money in the early years."
Costa Mesa City Manager Allan L. Roeder said Wednesday that he and other officials are now completing a financing package for the system.
The JPA would probably issue bonds on behalf of cities later this year, Roeder said. The JPA would use future revenue from Proposition 172--which raised the state sales tax to benefit law enforcement agencies--as collateral. A second bond issue on behalf of the county would occur in about two years, he said.
Fourteen cities have placed more than $12 million into a special communications trust fund, which is now tied up in the county bankruptcy. Roeder said city officials still are trying to determine when the money will be accessible and whether they will receive 100% in return.
Police officials expressed relief Wednesday that the communications system was finally moving forward.
"I'm absolutely delighted," La Habra Police Chief Steven Staveley said. "We are still a long way off from being done. But we now have a good chance of getting it completed."
Staveley and other police officials have argued that the existing 400-megahertz system is dangerously obsolete and must be replaced.
The new Motorola system has been planned for several years. The project was placed on hold when the county declared bankruptcy Dec. 6 after its investment pool collapsed. Some officials feared the delay would prompt the Federal Communications Commission to take away the channels set aside for Orange County and give them to government agencies elsewhere.
But Staveley and Roeder said Wednesday that they are now optimistic that the new JPA can have the new radio system under construction by the FCC's August deadline.
City councils are expected to vote on joining the JPA over the next few weeks.