Jonesboro to increase citation add-on fee

People, who are issued citations in the City of Jonesboro, are going to have a pay a little bit more money, as the city works to pull together enough funds to buy a new, federally mandated radio system.

Jonesboro’s city council voted, unanimously this week, to change the city’s ordinance dealing with the technology add-on fee for citations. It will increase the from $5, to $10. The fee is included in citations issued by city police, to buy equipment such as radios and computers for officers.

Police Chief Franklin Allen said the city will have to come up with as much as $250,000 this year to buy a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-compliant 800 megahertz narrow-band radio system. All public safety agencies in the county have to switch to the new system by the end of the year, he added.

“By changing this ordinance that is already in place, to make the add-on fee for technology a $10 citation, we can start banking that money, and building that up,” Allen told councilmembers this week. “That will offset some of the costs on what we’re going to have to pay out when we change over to the new radio system.”

Although the change marks a 100-percent increase in Jonesboro’s technology add-on fee, the city will still have one of the lowest fees — if not the lowest fee — in the Southern Crescent, according to Allen. The police chief based his comments on an “impromptu survey” he did of the Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, Griffin, Lake City and Morrow police departments.

The fees ranged from $12 in Chattahoochee and Griffin, to $25 in College Park.

All public safety agencies in the country are being required by the FCC, to switch to the new, narrow-band radio system, the chief explained. “It [narrow-band] is not used as much, so they want to move all public safety agencies in the nation over to that system,” he said.

There was a sense of urgency to Allen’s presentation to the council, on Monday. He explained that he had warned councilmembers early last year that this was going to be something the city would have to deal with, but he added that the city did not include it as a line-item in its 2012 budget.

“I didn’t want to get to the 12th hour, and now we’re going to get hit with $225,000, and we need to figure out how to put a radio system in,” the police chief said. He later warned councilmembers “we are way behind the learning curve on this radio system.”

He added that all of the radios currently assigned to officers would have to be “changed out,” because they do not comply with the new system that will be put into place. The radios currently in use by the department operate on Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio waves, the chief explained.

Allen said the county expects the switch-over period, from the old system, to the new one, will take up to six months, to complete.

Despite the urgency of the situation, there was still a sense of apprehension from councilmembers about increasing a fee to pay for the new system. “Are there any grants out there that we can use [instead of increasing the add-on fee]?” Councilman Wallace Norrington asked Allen.

The police chief said there likely were some grants out there, which could have paid for the upgrade, but added that “probably at this point in the game, you’re too late to be looking.”

Mayor Joy Day said the council was free to set the add-on fee higher than the $10 Allen requested, if they so desired, but Councilman Bobby Wiggins said, “I would think $10 would be high enough. You’re already hitting people with fines.”

Eventually, councilmembers expressed support for the fee increase, despite their initial apprehension, mainly because the conversion is federally mandated.