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Boca's Public Safety Communications Dilemma

Boca’s Public Safety Communications Dilemma – What you Need to Know

by Les Wilson

This is an article about the recent City Council meeting regarding the Public Safety Radio Tower proposed to be built on the former Boca Municipal Golf Course. For additional analysis and opinion on this issue, see the article Palm Beach County Thinks Boca Raton Is A Piggy Bank

At the June 11 2019 City Council meeting, Resolution No. 75-2019 was proposed. It authorized the Mayor and City Clerk to execute an “interlocal agreement” with Palm Beach County regarding a new public safety communications tower. An “interlocal” agreement is an agreement of intent between the two government groups. 

Resolution 75-2019
Resolution 75-2019

The resolution was originally put in the Consent Agenda by city staff. For those not familiar with local government proceedings, the Consent Agenda is the place on the City Council meeting agenda where day-to-day housekeeping items are bundled. This is so they can be voted on all at once. In other words, it’s for items that don’t need debate and discussion. However, Council Member Rodgers and Mayor Singer requested the tower resolution item be moved to the regular agenda so that discussion and public comment could happen. The agreement is between the city and the county and expresses intent. It is not a final agreement and can be amended.

BocaFirst Summary:

The value to the city is that has control over all users of the tower and can prevent consumer cellular communications by other “tenants” on the tower.

Both the city and county need new public safety communications towers in the area of the former Boca Municipal golf course where zoning allows them. The county controls the zoning. The county requires a 400’ tower and the city a 200’ tower. The county will build its tower somewhere in the area whether or not the city signs the agreement. The value to the city to pay for the construction of a single tower to house both city and county equipment is that it will own the tower. It also means the city has control over all users of the tower and can prevent consumer cellular communications by other “tenants” on the tower. Also, by using a single tower for both city and county, the city minimizes the total number of towers in the area.

After discussion and public comments, a motion to postpone was made by Council Member Thompson but was defeated. Expressing concern the 6 week delay would cause to maintaining public safety, Council Member Mayotte made a motion to accept the resolution but keep working the deal. The vote to accept the resolution was:  

YES:  Mayotte, Singer, O’Rourke;

NO:  Rodgers, Thompson

Details Provided by City Staff:

Watch time 5:30. Deputy Mayor George Brown Presentation of Resolution 75-2019

According to Deputy Manager Brown, the agreement says the City of Boca Raton will pay the county $2.3 million to build a 400’ tower with contingency up to $3 million. The tower will be put on a plot of city owned land carved out of the soon to be sold Boca Municipal golf course. For the money, the tower will:

  1. Be constructed by the county
  2. Owned by the city
  3. Provide a tower for the city’s new radio public safety equipment that cannot go in it’s existing aging tower that is end of life and scheduled to be dismantled 
  4. Be managed/maintained by the county’s maintenance personnel who are the better group for the task

Are the County’s Terms a Good Deal?

Watch time 25:00.Council Member Discussion of Resolution 75-2019

Much time was spent listening to public comments and the council’s questions of Deputy City Manager Mr Brown. A frequently made point in the comments and discussion was as to why the city was paying for the county’s 400’ tower when the city only needed a 200’ tower. Council Member O’Rourke specifically asked “Why are we paying to build it?” to which Mr Brown replied “Because we proposed to own it.” According to Mr Brown:

  1. The city has been quoted $1.25M to build a 200’ tower with everything required. 
  2. The cost of a 400’ tower is $2.3M (the resolution authorizes $3M to cover contingencies). 
  3. Both the city and the county are under time pressure to get the new equipment operational.
  4. Delaying the agreement now will impact the public safety communications later in 2020 when the new equipment needs to be online.
Watch time 2:37. Responses by Deputy City Manager to Public Comment Questions

According to the presentation and discussion, the value of owning the jointly used 400’ tower for an additional $1.05M comes down to:

  1. City ownership is how the city can ensure the county does not use the tower for cellular 
  2. If the city cooperates with the county, that area will lose the old city tower and gain one 400’ instead of creating a 4th tower
  3. If the city builds its own 200’ tower, the area loses the old tower but will gain both a new 200’ and 400’ tower because the county will build it and possibly also allow cellular tenants on the tower.

BocaFirst “What You Need to Know”:

During the presentation of the resolution and later questioning, Deputy City Manager George Brown made the points below. See accompanying video snippets of his presentation and answers to questions from the public and council. The full unedited meeting is available on the city website.:

cell tower cellphone masts
Cell tower cellphone masts
  1. The county’s current tower near the Boca Muni golf course cannot support the new “P25” public safety equipment that it needs to deploy. In order to cover the area required by the county, its new system must be on a 400’ tower.
  2. Regardless of whether the city signs the interlocal agreement, the county is going to build the new tower in the same area and would acquire land via eminent domain, some other “taking” or this cooperative agreement with the city.
  3. Like the county, the city needs to update its equipment. Its existing tower is over 40 years old, cannot accommodate the new “P25” equipment. The old tower cannot be rebuilt. However, in order get the required coverage, the city need only be in a 200’ tower. The quote city staff has for the total cost of a new 200’ tower is $1.25 million.
  4. The city current and future communications piggyback on the county’s communications hub. That is, city radio communications are dependent on the county and it’s in the city’s best interest to be cooperative in determining a site. 
  5. There are currently 3 towers in the area with the current city tower scheduled to be removed. This resolution prevents two new towers and keeps the total tower count to three. It also consolidates them into a smaller total area by locating the new tower closer to the others.
  6. According to the resolution, no cellular communication services are allowed on the tower. The tower would be used by the County, City and others but restricted to Public Safety communications only. 
  7. While the City is the owner of the tower and land, the county and any other user of the tower must each purchase and maintain their own equipment. All users contribute to a maintenance/renewal fund for the tower itself. 
  8. Initially, the city and county will split the cost of a maintenance building and generator.
  9. The agreement would be for the 45 years which is the expected life of the tower

For additional reading on municipal safety networks, see: www.firstnet.com and www.firstnet.gov

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