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Radio funds sought on Capitol Hill

Pasco's county government and the Sheriff's Office are searching for a way to finance a new emergency communications system.

They hope to find the answer in Washington, D.C.

Sheriff Bob White and County Administrator John Gallagher are seeking $6.1-million to build a new network for the handheld radios used by law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire rescue, animal control and other county government agencies.

"The funding requested will help assure our continuity of government in the event of a disaster of any type, whether natural acts or terrorism," White and Gallagher wrote in a March 13 letter to lawmakers.

One of the letter's recipients _ U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon _ said it likely will be fall before Congress reaches a decision on the request. She cautioned that it will be a difficult fiscal year in Washington.

"It's possible," she said of the request. "We think there will be some money set aside for homeland security."

Said sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers: "It's worth a shot."

He said the Sheriff's Office is seeking any possible funding source for a replacement to the current system, which is 14 years old. He joked that if the pleas to Washington go unanswered that the Sheriff's Office will start passing a hat. According to the letter and sheriff's officials, the system has several problems:

+ The system's three radio antennae have sustained lightning damage.

+ The radio manufacturer no longer makes replacement parts.

+ 1,600 radios are jammed onto eight frequencies designed to handle 100 radios each.

+ There are dead spots in the county where deputies or other users cannot use their radios. At times, deputies have called the Sheriff's Office on personal cellular phones because they can't get through on the radios.

"There is a major potential for danger there, first for the deputies and second for the citizens," Powers said.

The letter states that deputies use handheld radios for their primary form of communication.

"A car mounted radio . . . does the deputy no good during a fight or foot chase," it states.

The county would add $1.7-million to the requested $6.1-million in federal funds, the letter states.

The new system would include six antennae and eight new frequencies. The current system will be unserviceable in less than five years, the letter states.

The letter was sent to the three U.S. representatives serving Pasco _ Thurman; Adam Putnam, R-Bartow; and Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs _ as well as U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, and Sens. Bill Nelson and Bob Graham.

The Sheriff's Office recently received a federal grant to put laptop computers in all patrol cars. The combination of new radios would make deputies "safer, faster and more thorough," Powers said.

_ Ryan Davis is the police reporter in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavissptimes.com.

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