CRESTVIEW —Okaloosa County officials plan to issue a request for proposals to banks that will compete for the right to loan the county a projected $20 million for the replacement of inadequate emergency services communications equipment.


That plan received the County Commission’s unanimous approval Tuesday. County officials intend to pay off the loan with local option half-cent sales tax revenue.


The purpose of the county’s emergency services communications system is to provide communication between various agencies such as the sheriff’s office, emergency medical services, corrections and emergency management, Commissioner Graham Fountain said.


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But, "The current system has become obsolete," he said, adding that having fully capable communications equipment is just as crucial as paying the county employees.


Bringing the county-wide communications system up to date with the latest reach and technological improvements will include the installation of a new public safety land mobile radio system, according to county information. The radio system includes radio base stations, antennas, cabling and at least one communications tower.


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"You have gaps in coverage of this area," County Administrator John Hofstad said. "Having a robust communications system in the county has been public safety’s No. 1 issue."


Including the issuance cost and an anticipated interest rate of 3%, the county would responsible for a total loan debt of a little more than $23 million.


Loan proposals from banks who respond to the RFP are due Aug. 14, and an institution recommended by county staff could be ready for the commission’s approval in November.


In response to a question from Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, Deputy County Administrator of Operations Craig Coffey said the new communications system could remain viable for at least 15 years and possibly up to 25 years.


In other business Tuesday, the commission unanimously agreed to permanently allow the sale of alcoholic beverages between 7 a.m. and 4 a.m. the next morning, each day of the week, at businesses in the unincorporated areas.


Based on a suggestion from Ketchel, those hours were temporarily put in place in early May to benefit senior citizens who shopped at stores that provided very early, seniors-only shopping periods in light of the coronavirus crisis.


The county’s previous starting times for the sale of alcoholic beverages were 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.


The now-permanent hours match up more with those set by most of the county’s larger municipalities.