Matt Gush/Adobe Stock
At a June 7 Special Town Meeting, voters will discuss and decide on whether the Town will draw $4.5 million from the general reserve fund to upgrade and modernize Weston’s emergency land mobile radio system. An online information session was held on May 18.
The meeting will take place at 7:00 pm in the Weston High School cafeteria.
It has long been accepted that Weston’s emergency land mobile radio system has aged out. “It’s a good system, but it’s out of life,” said Communications Director Larry Roberts in a briefing to the Board of Finance in April.
Mr. Roberts said that, at more than 20 years old, most components are obsolete and a challenge to maintain. Replacement parts are either difficult or impossible to find, and the system’s infrastructure is no longer supported.
“A real fear,” said Mr. Roberts, is that a major component could fail, bringing down the entire system, and not be replaceable.
A technical assessment of options, conducted over the past two years, presented two choices: bring the current system up to date with new equipment, or migrate to the Connecticut Land Mobile Radio Network, which was originally built for the State Police but now can serve member municipalities.
The transition to the state network is estimated to be up to $1 million more expensive than updating the current system. But the state network has one advantage that makes it strongly preferred by the chiefs of Weston Police, Volunteer Fire Department, and EMS: it would allow Weston’s emergency communications system to interoperate with those of nearby towns.
To an increasing degree, said the chiefs, Weston relies on neighboring towns for mutual aid in emergencies, and vice versa.
The chiefs weigh in
The chiefs agree that interoperability justifies the additional cost, future-proofs Weston’s investment, and removes a potential hazard to the safety of citizens and emergency responders.
At the May 18 public information session, the chiefs emphasized the importance of interoperability. Police Chief Ed Henion said assistance from other towns is frequently needed, considering the small size of Weston’s force, and that the new system would give officers the ability to communicate directly, including when they transport to Stamford courts.
Volunteer Fire Chief John Pokorny said his department’s system has suffered many failures in the last few years and that new construction, larger houses, and increasing use of plastics make for larger and hotter fires.
EMS Chief Michael Schlechter said EMS personnel are cut off and cannot take incoming calls when they are out of town, which happens frequently, as they often take patients to local hospitals.
The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance approved asking voters to ratify the $4.5 million draw from reserves to migrate to the state system. By the terms of the Town Charter, an appropriation of that size must be approved by voters, which is the matter at hand for the June 7 Special Town Meeting.
The Board of Finance concluded that Weston’s reserve balance is sufficiently ample to cover the appropriation while staying above the level needed to ensure the town’s triple-A credit rating.
Over the past several years, the Town got a head start by allowing more than $2 million to accumulate to fund emergency communications improvements, knowing that the need was growing. Over those years, however, costs almost doubled.
Relief may come from the federal government and the state.
First Selectwoman Samantha Nestor told the Board of Finance in April that Congressman Jim Himes is encouraged that Weston may qualify for $1 million in Congressional Directed Spending to help pay for the project. Ms. Nestor said she also received encouraging word from Hartford about her application for a $509,000 grant to replace one of the two required dispatch consoles.
In both cases, however, availability of those funds will not be certain until later this year and hinge upon a town decision by June 30. The federal money would only apply if Weston migrates to the state network.
March 13, 2023: Decision Nears for Emergency Communications
March 11, 2023: A Letter to the Editor from Ms. Nestor about the project
February 13, 2023: Podcast: Ms. Nestor and Mr. Roberts discuss the project
October 22, 2018: Public Safety Project, Part 2
Editor’s Note: portions of this story appeared previously in an article about the May 18 public information session.