Funding Public Safety Communications Systems


By Chief Tom Roche (Ret.)
SAFECOM Funding and Sustainment Committee Chair
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
IACP Communications & Technology Committee Vice-Chair

When the SAFECOM/NCSWIC Funding and Sustainment Committee met last January (2015) to set its priorities for the year, we asked members what pressing challenges they were facing and how we, as a Committee, could help them address those challenges.  Time and again, members expressed growing challenges identifying and securing funding - not just for major capital improvements to their public safety communications systems, but equally important the funding throughout the system life cycle, for operations and necessary upgrades during that time period. With cut-backs in federal grants, fiscal pressure on state and local governments, and other public safety needs and projects competing for funds, many state and local public safety agencies were struggling to secure the funding that they need to keep their communications systems up and running, or to move forward with major improvements.

So throughout 2015, the SAFECOM/NCSWIC Funding and Sustainment Committee collected and compiled examples of funding methods used by states and local governments and their public safety agencies to build, improve, expand, and support the ongoing costs of public safety communications systems. In the end, the Committee compiled over 50 examples of how public safety agencies funded land mobile radio (LMR) system replacements, upgrades, dispatch consolidation, devices, and operations. The Committee’s findings were recently published in the Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems document.

The document lays out various funding mechanisms (e.g., bonds, user fees, special taxes), and provides specific examples of states and localities that have leveraged that type of funding for improvements to their systems. Additionally, there are links within the document that provide more details about each example, and how it was used in that state or locality.  Our Committee learned a lot about how states and localities are funding system improvements, and shared best practices and lessons learned from our experiences. For example, as a result of this effort, we invited representatives from Whitfield County, Georgia to talk about their efforts to enact a Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to fund their system. Not only did we learn about the use of special taxes, but also the need to educate decision-makers and citizens on their public safety communications needs, and why the upgrade was needed. 

These examples, and this paper, are intended to help public safety leaders, and government officials learn how other states and localities are funding their public safety communications systems.  This document can be used as a starting point for discussions not only on how to fund capital improvements and to help to educate decision-makers on the ongoing operational costs, and why it’s so important to discuss funding for operational costs at the start of any project.

We encourage you to read the Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems document, and use it to assist your agency with your Public Safety Communications needs. If you are interested in more examples, we have compiled over 50 different funding examples from various states and localities into the Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems Table

In 2016, the SAFECOM/NCSWIC Funding and Sustainment Committee will continue to compile examples of various funding methods. If you are aware of a unique funding method in your state or locality and would like to see it featured in the upcoming 2016 Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems Table, or have any questions on these products, please email SAFECOMGovernance@hq.dhs.gov or NCSWICGovernance@hq.dhs.gov.   

For more information on the Funding Mechanisms for Public Safety Communications Systems document, please refer to: https://www.dhs.gov/safecom/funding

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