SUMMERVILLE - Static so loud you couldn't decipher messages. Dead spots where radios just didn't work. Town officials have spent four years and nearly half a million dollars trying to bring an outmoded public safety communications system up to speed.

They think now they might have it - finally, hopefully.

New equipment has been installed, such as trunking software, flashports, inverters, reband upgrades, adaptors, new radios and so on. The price tag was $499,754.90, according to an accounting requested by The Post and Courier under the Freedom of Information Act.

"I'm not going to say it's fixed. I think we're on the path to have it fixed. I haven't heard any complaints recently," said Councilman Walter Bailey, who heads the Public Safety Committee that oversaw the upgrades.

"Obviously I don't want to spend any more money than we have to. But it's a safety issue, for public safety personnel and for the public," he said.

Disruptions were so bad at one point that, returning from a ride-around with a police officer, Councilman Bob Jackson told council members that the radios didn't work well enough about 25 percent of the time to even make a call on license checks.

The problems were one big headache for police and fire officials, who had been scraping by during the economic downturn, putting off hires and hanging on to aging vehicles while the town dealt with revenue shortfalls. Public safety needs became an issue in the 2009 election and dominated discussions of budget cutbacks.

Council struggled to make other improvements piecemeal while paring down budgets until revenues recently stabilized. Communications, though, couldn't wait. It was a must-do but difficult fix.

Remaining radio problems are expected to be fixed by the first of the year, Mayor Bill Collins said. Then the town has to turn its attention to the non-working air conditioning in the public safety building.

"We're getting ready to lose everybody we have over there if we don't get it fixed," Collins said with dry humor.

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