Manatee, Sarasota officially have new regional public safety radio system

MANATEE -- Manatee and Sarasota counties officially have a new regional public safety radio system.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission gave its unanimous stamp of approval, the final step necessary before the 24-month implementation process of the P25 radio can begin. The Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved the radio earlier this month.

The 2015-16 recommended budget for Manatee County includes debt service payments for Manatee County's $15 million share of the project. There is also an estimated $6 million total for maintenance and support from year two through the 12th year.

The P25 radio, which will improve radio coverage along University Parkway and the barrier islands, replaces the current systems, which are at "end of life," said Paul Alexander, Manatee County Information Technology Department director.

"Public safety is improved for citizens of both Manatee and Sarasota counties," Alexander said. "It is going to have substantial improvement on that coverage. When you look at the coverage maps before and after, they are quite profound."

The regional radio system will replace the two separately owned and operated radio systems. Nine tower sites will be in each county with the new radio system, according to Alexander.

The P25 radio has been two years in the making, Alexander said, as he recognized the other individuals involved in the process at Tuesday's meeting. Representatives from Sarasota County, Airbus DS Communications and others were present.

"This is the team, the partnership and collaboration that has occurred to get to this regional P25 radio," Alexander said.

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said it has been a long path to get where they are today.

"It really is something we need," Baugh said. "It's really good for the region that Sarasota and Manatee are going to be working together."

Baugh said she hopes that they will be able to add more counties to the system in the future to "broaden communication that we have in the region."

Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac called the radio a "big ticket item."

"This is a significant investment," she said. "It is the kind of investment we have to make in public safety to ensure safety."

Also on Tuesday, the commission adopted a resolution to accept a $3.2 million grant from Southwest Florida Water Management District for the Robinson Preserve expansion. The county is providing a $3.2 million land match for the grant.

The land was donated to the county by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which purchased the land with a $3.2 million donation from the Mosaic Foundation.

The commission also approved an amended Fill Removal Agreement for the Robinson Preserve expansion. According to county documents, construction on the 150-acre expansion is expected to being in the fall.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.