Montgomery County commissioners postponed funding new fire service radios after a disagreement on using county funds.

The county’s Emergency Services Director Darren Hess presented the request at the court’s Dec. 14 meeting. The funding request came to approximately $4.7 million to fund 700 radios, which would come from the county’s public safety funding.

Hess told commissioners that only new radios would be purchased. Montgomery County Fire Services has 1,100 portable and mobile radios in service across its entire system, Hess told Community Impact Newspaper.

Hess said emergency services districts first reached out to him in early 2021 and initially requested around $9 million before scaling back their requests and searching for alternate sources of funding. The departments’ equipment was last overhauled about 10 years ago, and manufacturers no longer support their maintenance, Hess said.

Hess said he had received reports from ESDs of radios failing while in the field, and parts of existing equipment were obsolete. Radios often run up to 10,000 calls a year, according to Hess.

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack criticized the decision to fund the county’s radios in a blanket move and said ESDs should prioritize managing their budgets.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Noack said. “[ESDs] cannot use Montgomery County tax dollars on supporting another taxing entity.”

Other members of the court acknowledged Noack’s concerns but raised their own questions about letting firefighters operate with outdated equipment. Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts said he did not want fire departments to suffer with outdated equipment.

“As the population increases, the risk increases,” Metts said. “Personally I think it is the right thing to do.”

Hess clarified to commissioners that the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management had identified and prioritized ESDs that were too underfunded to purchase the radios on their own. Due to issues with supplies from the manufacturer Motorola, the radios would have to be phased in batches, according to OHSEM executive director Jason Millsaps.

ESDs replace radios through a combination of their own money, fire assistance grants and some county money, according to ESD officials.

County Judge Mark Keough suggested commissioners revisit the issue with additional information, such as the needs for individual ESDs. Commissioners took no action on the item at the Dec. 14 meeting.