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New radio system could be on the way to city of La Crosse

Published On: Jul 26 2013 06:37:09 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 26 2013 07:37:51 PM CDT

The city of La Crosse is looking to replace its emergency radio system in 2014, but doing that could mean other departments will have to make do with less.

That's because the city is considering using the majority of the capital improvement budget to cover the cost of the new system.

Each year, the city has $7.5 million to work with in the capital improvement budget.

This year departments requested a total of $36 million from the 2014 budget.

While the new radio system would eat up most of the $7.5 million, some say public safety comes first.

"It's long overdue, quiet honestly," said La Crosse Fire Department Divison Chief Tom Wallerich.

"It's critical for our agency," said Lt. Pat Hogan with the La Crosse Police Department.

There's no doubt among emergency officials in La Crosse that a new emergency radio system is a necessity.

The director of the city's Public Works Department, Dale Hexom, said the 20-year-old system could fail at any point with no way to fix it.

"Motorola, which is the manufacturer of our system, stopped manufacturing replacement parts to the heart of the radio system and really stopped developing software upgrades to the system that we have," said Hexom.

A new system would also fix the problem of reception dead spots in the city and in some buildings by constructing two additional towers.

"We look at the radios we carry day to day as just as important as the breathing equipment we use going into a fire, because if we lose communication going into a building that's a huge concern, and that happened at times," said Wallerich.

But the project isn't cheap.

It will cost $5.2 million 2014.

Right now, it's proposed to come out of the city's capital improvement budget, which is $7.5 million.

That leaves $2.3 million to be split up among all the other departments.

It's a sacrifice the mayor said the city will simply have to make.

"It's to the point where we have very limited choice deciding whether or not to do it. We've decided we have to move forward with it, so now it's moving forward to find the best system," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

"The entire reason for this system is public safety," said Hexom.

There is some talk of taking money out of the reserve fund to pay for the new radio system.

But then the city is faced with the problem of how to replenish that fund.