Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another money dispute sparked in Jasper County by tower lights

The Jasper County Sheriff's Office issues a warning to county officials over a communications tower in Carl Junction.

The issue centers around aviation lights on the tower.

There is a quarter cent sales tax in Jasper County to support law enforcement. Of that quarter percent, 4.3% goes to a grant fund.

In 2010, members of Jasper County's Law Enforcement Sales Tax board awarded grant money to the Carl Junction Police Department for a new communications tower. Board members at the time were chosen by Sheriff Archie Dunn.

Some say there was also enough money to pay for warning lights on the tower.

"The liability would probably be on everybody involved in the project," says Lt. Matt Stoller of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office, and a former L.E.S.T. board member. "It would probably be Carl Junction, it would probably be the commission, it would probably be the sheriff's office."

And taxpayers could foot the bill.

The tower helps Carl Junction police better communicate with officers. Carl Junction police had asked for a 100 foot tower, but the grant board felt a 195 foot tower would maximize the goal.

"To make it a regional asset and that was always what the grant was about, was improving interoperability, and the ability of agencies to communicate with each other," says Lt. Stoller. "We had some line of sight studies done, but we did those internally. We have the software."

The tower's completion last year ended with a price tag of $105,000. Of that, $2,000, was budgeted for aviation warning lights, which were installed before the tower was put up.

It was about this time when new members took over the Law Enforcement Sales Tax grant board. They were chosen by county commissioners, not the sheriff.

Current L.E.S.T. board member Jim Woestman says they do not have a problem with the communications tower.

The debate is over the aviation lights on the tower.

"It was so close to their new community center and I thought, well, if they have an accident out there, if a senior citizen or anybody else has a medical issue and they're going to need life flight flying in there to pick somebody up, I wanted to make sure our tower wasn't run into by a helicopter," says Lt. Stoller.

The bill for the aviation lights didn't come until July, when the new sales tax board members were in command.

"Carl Junction did not order that second section to be put on that tower, the sheriff did," says current board member Woestman. "So that top of the tower is the sheriff's part, and he needs to pay for it."

But board members say the do see the need for the lights.

"You don't have to have lights until you're 200 foot high, but it is 195 feet, so common sense would tell you it would be best to have lights on it," says Woestman.

Again, as current board members point out, the FAA does not require lights on the tower based on its height. But some believe it may still be a risk without them.

If the lights are not paid for they may be taken down. County officials do not know how much that would cost, in addition to everything else in the past.


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