Radio Network Update
In 2003, the Board approved a partnership with the City of Charlotte to consolidate the public safety radio network with the City managing radio communications. One of the key goals of this consolidation is to develop a regional public safety radio network. Below is a brief update on the progress made in this partnership:
System Performance – The system continues to perform at a high level. It has a heavy and growing volume with good responsiveness.
Funding and Service – The City has done an excellent job securing grant funds and partnering with others to keep the costs down as it continues to expand and improve the system. It has used more than $10 million in grants for radio system improvements in the past few years. Future grant funds will be targeted toward regional networks. We are well positioned for future grants and are seeking grant funds for future infrastructure improvements, including the digital layer. The City has managed this service very well, and our community has one of the largest and best radio networks in the country.
Capital Projects – All capital projects are complete, except the new digital overlay (a second interconnected network which is digital). The drivers for the digital layer are increased usage of the existing system and technical obsolescence of the analog network. Digital network expansion will require BOCC and City Council approval. Expansion is expected to begin in FY2009.
800 MHz Rebanding – Nationally, Nextel and public safety radio frequencies are intermixed today, which causes interference problems. The FCC solution was to eliminate interference problems by dedicating certain frequency ranges to Nextel and another set to public safety. This is a major project for the radio network. Nextel is supposed to cover the costs of completing this project, and the Board will receive any updates if this situation changes.
Regional Expansion – A grant project was completed in 2007 that connects Mecklenburg to ten other counties in the region, achieving the vision of regional interoperability for emergency purposes. Several jurisdictions in the region have expressed desire to join the radio network, including the counties of Gaston, Union, York, and Cleveland and the towns of Gastonia, Belmont, and Mt. Holly. Negotiations are underway with Union County, and we expect to present an interlocal agreement for approval by City Council and the County Commissioners in January. Union will invest $18.5 million in a new system and will use ten spare radio frequencies owned by Mecklenburg County, which will be licensed for use by Union but kept in Mecklenburg’s name (we either must use the licenses or give them back to the FCC).
WTVI Cable Franchise Fee Payments
The Video Services Competition Act adopted by the N.C. General Assembly in last year’s short session changed the way cable television is franchised in North Carolina. This change moved franchising from the local to the state level. The Act also includes language that appears to apply specifically to Mecklenburg County and WTVI. The language requires counties to maintain the same level of support provided to public television stations for public, educational and government access (PEG) channel programming as was provided before the state took over franchising. As best as we can determine, this language in the Act applies only to Mecklenburg County and its relationship with WTVI regarding the production of PEG channel programming.
The County was not consulted regarding the insertion of this language in the Act and therefore had no input in the matter. Nonetheless, we do intend to comply with the Act by continuing, at this time, to utilize WTVI to produce PEG channel programming. This requires the County to provide WTVI with a portion of the funds the State provides as “reimbursement” for cable franchise fees that are now paid directly to the State.
Prior to the State receiving cable franchise fees directly, Mecklenburg County did not directly provide cable franchise fee revenue to WTVI. Instead, the County required this revenue to be provided by its cable franchise holder (Vision Cable/Time Warner Cable) to support the production of PEG channel programming.
Although WTVI is not a PEG channel, the County enabled WTVI to receive these funds to produce programs that could be televised on PEG channels. As a result, WTVI has been receiving approximately $30,000 each quarter from TWC. Earlier this week, General Manager John McGillicuddy sent a letter to WTVI President and CEO Elsie Garner to confirm the continuation of this level of support, consistent with the provisions of the Act and the agreement that enabled WTVI to receive this funding.
In return for receiving this cable franchise fee revenue, WTVI agreed to produce up to four 30-minute TV programs a month (1,440 hours a year) that could be televised via PEG channels. However, in recent years including the current fiscal year, WTVI has estimated that it will produce a total of 60 hours of PEG channel programming at a cost of $40,057. This is based on the amount of PEG channel programming that is requested of WTVI. WTVI uses the excess revenue to pay for other local programming costs. However, WTVI is aware that it must be prepared to produce up to four 30-minute shows per year, if requested.
Recently, local media included news reports on CharMeck 311, the consolidated customer contact center for the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The news reports included examples of deficiencies in call hold duration and instances of incorrect information being provided to customers. These reports also acknowledged that existing issues were being addressed as a high priority.
Although it is managed by the City of Charlotte, CharMeck 311 is a jointly funded service with the County covering 26 percent of the operational budget and the City paying the other 74 percent of costs.
Problems such as staff turnover cited in media reports are common to call center management, particularly a newly launched center in a competitive job market. City management has been very proactive in providing regular updates, and the current training class will bring CharMeck 311 to a full staffing level.
Unrelated to these staffing issues, additional funding may be requested in the FY 08-09 budget to expand and/or enhance the service provided to County customers. This likely would involve incorporating additional County departments and services into CharMeck 311’s direct service offering. Currently, the Park and Recreation Department and the Office of Tax Collector are the only County services fully incorporated into 311’s knowledge base. LUESA is being added later this fiscal year. Public Health, Sheriff’s Office, and other County services will be phased in over subsequent fiscal years.
Mark Your Calendar
Tuesday, November 13:
- BOCC Public Policy Workshop, 3 p.m., Rm 267
Tuesday, November 20:
- Dinner Meeting, 5 p.m., CH-14
- Regular Meeting, 6 p.m., Meeting Chamber
--Harry L. Jones, Sr., County Manager