With the November general election fast approaching, ongoing problems with a new digital emergency radio system have become a big issue in the race for the Deschutes County Commission.

The three current commissioners, and two of the candidates seeking the office, attended Tuesday’s meeting of the chiefs of the various police and fire agencies in the Deschutes County 911 service district. These meetings have focused this year primarily on addressing complaints from police officers and dispatchers regarding the $5.5 million Harris-brand radio system that went live in July 17.

At the beginning of the year, the monthly meetings were attended only by some of the chiefs of the 15 agencies in the district and various technical staff members. But as complaints from users have piled up, scrutiny at the meetings has increased.

Candidates James Cook and Patti Adair sat in the audience Tuesday at Deschutes 911 headquarters and took notes throughout the two-hour meeting.

Adair, a Republican, said she now regularly gets radio-­related questions from the public when she campaigns. The subject comes up in interviews and candidate forums.

“I know people need to have confidence in our 911 system and all of our safety,” she said after the meeting. “I want to see the testing because what I’m reading is that it’s a nightmare, so let’s get out there and retest it, folks.”

Democrat Cook said after the meeting he had “the same questions as before.”

Officials are currently in the process of assessing signal strength and determining how many more signals towers are needed in Deschutes County to get the coverage to a desired level.

To address poor coverage, areas in west Bend and north of Redmond, near Terrebonne, have been identified as the most likely sites of new towers.

The towers would cost an estimated $500,000 to $750,000.

Amy Lowes, the Democrat challenging Tony DeBone, was not at the meeting but, when reached by phone Tuesday, she said she’s aware of the issues and has been researching Harris online.

“It’s obviously an erosion of trust and something that needs to be addressed,” she said.

DeBone said that despite ongoing issues with the system, the district is now on the right track.

In May, Adair narrowly defeated Commissioner Tammy Baney in the Republican primary.

Commissioner Phil Henderson is not up for re-­election this year.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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