Articulate June 2017

Chamber Addresses City’s Infrastructure Needs

Written By: Karissa Diomampo

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce held its first-ever public meeting focused on public safety and the need for a new public safety radio system on March 29 at the Senior Recreation Center.

In September 2016, the chamber launched the Putting Children First Infrastructure Investment Initiative to address infrastructure needs within four sectors: public schools, parks and recreation, roads and public safety.

Since its creation, the Infrastructure Investment Initiative (i3) Steering Committee has conducted research within the four sectors. It has shared recommendations and presented research that documents Alachua County’s infrastructure needs and priorities, specifically mentioning public safety needs at the March meeting.

The chamber and the i3 Steering Committee welcome the community’s opinions so that they can prioritize community needs and draft a ballot ordinance that will propose a raise in taxes, said Brian Scarborough, the i3 Steering Committee chair.

“We are actually taking a deep dive in addressing the infrastructure needs of our community,” Scarborough said. “We don’t know what the public wants to fund — we hope the community will stay engaged and build consensus.”

There are a variety of needs, so the key is to receive a wide scope from the community, said Commissioner Lee Pinkoson of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners. The chamber is currently taking the initiative to try to engage the community.

Dianna Payne, a resident of Alachua County for 45 years, first heard about the meeting from a local newspaper. She attended the meeting to learn about the new initiative.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before,” she said.

As Gainesville continues to expand rapidly, the four sectors need to be addressed now to prevent further challenges, Scarborough said.

The forum focused on public safety, where Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell spoke about the outdated 17-year-old trunked radio system that has negatively affected the effectiveness of the police department’s response to calls.

“This is a public safety concern,” Darnell said. “We have a failing system and communication is dependent on us responding to the needs of our citizens.”

There are only six radio towers and there are 3,081 radios on the system, but that isn’t enough coverage, Darnell said. The working equipment is rapidly becoming outdated and the sheriff’s department has resorted to buying old parts off eBay.

At the meeting, they played an example of the trunked radio system failing for the public to hear. The audio was unclear and the noise was garbled.

“The current radio system is not equipped for us to serve the rural areas of the city,” Darnell said.

In addition, the radios are not functioning well in the new buildings as urban growth goes vertical, she said. The Standard, a tall apartment complex, and the University of Florida’s Newell Hall will affect the signal penetration and further complicate the situation.

The trunked radio system is not only used by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Darnell said, it is also used by medical responders, fire rescues, the Gainesville Regional Transit System, the University of Florida Police Department and Gainesville Regional Utilities.

“It’s a huge undertaking, and I don’t think one entity can do it on their own,” Payne said. “They need to get the community more involved and informed about these issues.”

The meeting was one of three forums the chamber plans to hold. The next forum will include Sandy Hollinger, the interim superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, who will speak about the infrastructure needs of public schools and the funding the school district will need to address its current challenges. “Hopefully, people come out,” Pinkoson said. “There needs to be participation.”

“This is a public safety concern,” Darnell said. “We have a failing system and communication is dependent on us responding to the needs of our citizens.” – Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell

Karissa Diomampo is a third-year public relations major at the University of Florida. Great ideas, people and growth inspire her. When she’s not at a local coffee shop or the newest restaurant, she’s on an adventure with her family and friends

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