County swallows security pill

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


A contract between the county and SGTS Inc. for security systems services at the justice center had Houston County Board members reconsidering their career path. Rates for a master technician to come out and address a problem runs up to $290 per hour on a Sunday, for example.

“I’m going back to college,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski joked.

“It kind of makes you sick,” Commissioner Teresa Walter added.

But the need to have a quick, reliable and capable service provider outweighed the $2,000 contract presented by Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz and Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger.

The original security system’s warranty expired in April and, after a bit of research, SGTS was found to provide the best service at the lowest cost.

“At first blush, I thought these numbers can’t be working out, but this is what expertise for a high-tech system, as well as response time, costs,” Arrick-Kruger said.

“I wish we could have a local electrician coming in to do it,” Schiltz said, adding that there was no local provider available with knowledge on such a system.

Everything from the locks to card access to the intercom are controlled by the security system. The $2,000 contract guarantees the county a day of service, rapid response, a 20 percent discount on normal hourly rates should the county need more than a day of service and a significant discount on any product that might be needed.

“It guarantees us we can use them throughout the year. Without a contract, it could take a week to get someone out,” Schiltz said.

Arrick-Kruger encouraged the county to weigh the potential risk with the potential benefit.

It was a tough pill to swallow. Zmyewski said, “$300 an hour is unbelievable to me. It’s mind boggling.”

Arrick-Kruger said the other quote they received was 60 percent higher.

The board agreed on the $2,000 contract unanimously.

Arrick-Kruger said it is her hope, with the system being as new as it is, to not use the eight hours for a repair but for preventative maintenance.


Emergency communications

In a somewhat related matter, the board entertained a presentation from Steve Borchardt, southern Minnesota regional interoperability coordinator, who spoke about Houston County’s radio communication system.

The county belongs to a statewide radio system that helps emergency response personnel speak to one another in situations requiring  multiple agency response, such as a massive tornado, flood or threat.

The advent of the system is a direct result of the Sept. 11 terrorist  attacks on U.S. soil. The system is digital and allows for coordinated responses. It has also greatly improved radio communications for the Houston County Sheriff’s Department.

Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter explained that prior to going digital, deputies received 80 percent reliability when communicating from their cars and only 35 percent reliability when communicating on a portable device outside the car. “We didn’t publicize that because we didn’t want the bad guys to know that. It wasn’t anything near adequate,” Yeiter said.

With the new system, car radios have 100 percent coverage and portable radios, the ones carried on a deputy, receive 98 percent coverage.

“It’s a great system, and I’m happy we made the decision to move that way,” Yeiter said.

Iowa does not have a statewide system but Wisconsin does, and Yeiter said there is hopes that Wisconsin and Minnesota will soon be able to communicate with each other.

“If we ever have a major incident, say, on the river, and with the I-90 bridge being replaced over the next four years, there’s potential for that to be used,” Yeiter said.

Borchardt said not every agency was eager to come on board, especially since it requires a standard operating procedure and language, but Houston County, under the leadership of Yeiter, adapted well. “You guys have innovators here,” Borchardt said.

The system cost upwards of $1.7 million and was paid for by a combination of grants and county dollars. Other Minnesota counties had to bond for the expenditure.