There are three big deals going on in Rockwall County government right now. The first of these concerns what our county will look like in 15 to 20 years.

Currently our population is about 85,000, up 39,000 since the census in 2000, a mere 14 years ago. Conservative projections see us doubling in population again in the next 15 years. What do you want our county to look like at the end of these next 15 years?

An Open Space Alliance, an outgrowth of the citizen-led 5-Year Strategic Planning Group, composed of representatives from all the cities and the county, has been meeting and working for the last eight months towards helping to define and answer this question. 

Modeled after the county’s Transportation Consortium, this group is working with private contractors to study and define the use of our flood plains, how our creeks and watershed areas will develop, what and where will our green belts be located, and helping any of the cities with similar type questions. 

All of the city councils are involved as we go forward and the county has designated $225,000 this year for studies and expert assistance from the private sector. The website for the Alliance is openspacealliance.com and a Facebook page has been established so all can follow the activities. The group meets the last Wednesday of each month at 4 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse located on the square in Rockwall, and all of the meetings are open to the public.

The second big deal is the establishment of a Judicial Case Management System. This system will let all of the elements of the county involved with judicial activities to use the same automated system of control. This will allow a common record to follow an individual from when they are first introduced into the county jail until the final disposition of the individual’s case. 

The current outdated system used by the county has been discontinued by the vendor which necessitated this new introduction.

You may remember previous articles that discussed this activity. Unfortunately, the vendor which was originally contracted to produce this new system filed bankruptcy just as the first portion of the integrated system was ready for introduction. 

The county had insisted upon a performance bond in the contract which allowed most of the money spent to either be recovered or to be used to pay for a stand-alone land records retrieval system which was introduced and which works as it should. 

Final contract negotiations are ongoing with the new vendor. They are honoring their initial proposal when the county first initiated the Request for Proposal (RFP) from the various vendors.

The final big deal is really a big deal.

Currently, the first responders from the county and the various cities cannot talk to each other on their radios. This includes the police, fire, and EMT personnel. Why can’t they talk to each other when emergency conditions demand they be able to communicate, and how do you fix the problem?

The reason our emergency responders cannot talk to each other is the same reason that for years the various branches of our military could not talk with each other and the same reason the first responders on 9/11 could not talk with each other. Simply put, everyone’s radios were different and they were not compatible. They were and are on different frequency bands which prevented the integration of all the emergency responders.

The county recognized this issue several years ago when it became evident the sheriff’s radio system needed replacement. The decision was made that if the county was going to spend up to five million to replace these radios, why not put in place an integrated system where all the cities and the county would have the same capability. 

All of the organizations in the county quickly agreed to this approach, however some still owed money on their existing system and could not afford to buy into this new network with its expanded capabilities.

The county then made the decision that makes this a big deal for the entire county and especially for all of our residents. The county agreed to fund the entire new radio network. All of the existing radios owned by the cities would be given to the county to reduce the overall cost of the network where they would be traded for the new radios. 

Every radio turned in would be replaced with a new one that integrated into the new system. This would provide that interoperability that is needed for our emergency responders.

The RFP for this new network will soon be completed and out to the various vendors to compete for this business. The cost is estimated to be between $8 and $10 million. The county will pay and be responsible for the installation, testing, and operation of the new network. 

Five million of the cost will be paid from the reserve fund.  This fund currently has a balance of over $18 million. Our financial convents require between $8 and $13 million to be maintained in the fund. The remainder of the balance will come from short term certificates of obligation. No increase in taxes is projected.

It will take 12-18 months before this network is installed and in operation. But what an increase in capability and ability to respond to crises events. Rockwall County is preparing for the future.

Jerry Hogan is the County Judge of Rockwall County. He can be reached at jerryhogan@sbcglobal.net or 214-394-4033.

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