North Fulton County taxpayers may in the near future pay for two separate radio systems covering the same area.

Officials with Fulton County and its northern cities say building two parallel systems and making taxpayers pay twice for the same service is unavoidable. Officials with the cities and the county say partnership possibilities exist.

What kind of partnership opportunities? Neither side has a definitive answer. The north Fulton cities that signed the governmental agreement are Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton.

Both are forging ahead with no plan to curb redundant costs. Fulton County anticipates a $22 million to $26 million cost for a new county-wide system. The north Fulton cities recently signed a $16 million agreement with Motorola Solutions for a system that will coexist with the county’s new system.

“The situation could’ve been avoidable,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said. “The county actually reached out to the cities and asked them to be a part of our effort. We as a county have a system that’s antiquated and there’s almost a sense of urgency.”

Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said the partners felt any delay jeopardized public safety.

“We are probably 18 months ahead of where they are,” McDonough said. “We have day-to-day outages, potential for outages. We simply could not wait any longer to build a system.”

Fulton County will receive bids for its public safety radios system by Feb. 13, according to Emergency Services Director Angela Barrett.

“Given the fact that the county has a responsibility and contractual agreements to provide public safety radio communications to not only countywide services such as sheriff, marshal, district attorney and solicitor investigators, animal control and the school board, but also to north and south municipal partners, we are obligated to pursue a countywide system,” Barrett said.

Sandy Springs and the other cities opted to use state contract pricing to select Motorola Solutions, and McDonough said it saved the cities money over a traditional bid process.

But the city of Johns Creek backed out of the original agreement because the contract wasn’t bid. Johns Creek’s decision proved costly for the remaining four cities. Sandy Springs’ costs jumped $800,000, bringing the total for the city to $4.7 million. The second largest subscriber is Roswell, which is paying $5 million.

McDonough said there will be an option for subscribers to join the north Fulton system.

“We’ve agreed to cooperate,” he said. “We’re talking with them about sharing tower space right now.”

Barrett said the county is in “constant communication” with the cities about potential partnerships.

Neither side viewed its decision as potentially wasteful spending of taxpayer money. McDonough said the top priority for the cities was public safety. Eaves said he views the county’s situation differently because its system would cover both south and north Fulton.

“Both of us feel that we have to fulfill a need,” Eaves said. “I don’t see it as a waste.”

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