JAMESTOWN – A 50-cent-per-month increase in the tax on landline telephone and cellphone connections approved by the North Dakota Legislature will generate about $10 million over two years, according to Duane Schell, director of the Network Services Division of the North Dakota Information Technology Department.

The money is earmarked for updates to the communications equipment used by dispatch centers and first responders around the state.

“It’s not funded at a level where we can do everything,” Schell said, referring to the amount of money raised by the tax and the project to update the radio network. “That’s the challenge we have to figure out.”

Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager, said the goal is to have a statewide radio network that allows direct communications between police or fire units no matter what agency they work for.

Decisions regarding how the state will update its radio system will be handled by a board that includes representatives from law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency managers. The law that increased the tax on phone lines also added members of the state House and Senate to the board.

That board has a big job.

Bergquist said estimates to update radios for the entire state have been as high as $177 million. Estimates more than two years ago for updating all the radio consoles used by the dispatch centers in Stutsman, Barnes and Richland counties were as high as $1.6 million. Those counties have a cooperative agreement and use the same brands and models of equipment in their dispatch centers, Bergquist said.

That equipment is nearing the end of its life, he said. The radio consoles in the dispatch centers will no longer be eligible for service after 2018. While Stutsman County has saved some money to replace the equipment, it needs to know what equipment will work with the state network being developed.

There are 22 communications centers around North Dakota that answer 911 calls and dispatch first responders. Bergquist estimated about 15 use equipment that will become unserviceable after 2018.

“Once the dispatch centers can talk to each other,” he said, “then you can switch out the other radio systems and equipment.”

The 50-cent per line monthly tax will begin in July and will be deposited to a special fund for the radio update by the North Dakota state treasurer. Stutsman County residents already pay a $1 per line per month tax that is used to operate the Communications Center and cover local costs to upgrade equipment.

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