WATERVILLE — The 140-foot-tall radio communications tower next to the Police Department on Colby Street is fully functional, affording a much higher quality dispatching service not only for city police and fire, but also for eight other communities and Delta Ambulance.

“It is completely operational,” Police Chief Joseph Massey said of the tower. “It’s working absolutely fantastic. We’re now able to both transmit and receive our radio communications for this station to the cars, to all the communities out there, and it is just so much better than we had before, obviously.”

The city provides dispatching services for police and fire for Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Clinton, and fire for Sidney, Albion, Belgrade, China and Rome. Waterville also dispatches for Delta Ambulance.

“All our customers have given us feedback,” Massey said. “The signal is stronger, the clarity is much better. It’s a huge improvement. There’s just no question about it. All the antennas are brand new.”

OLD TOWER TO BE REMOVED

The new tower also has improved communications for officers using small, portable radios on their belts, according to Massey. In the past, for instance, an officer on foot traversing hilly terrain or moving around buildings or other obstructions had difficulty sometimes transmitting or receiving on their portable radios, but now they can go anywhere in the city and experience a better, stronger signal, he said.

Hussey Communications, of Winslow, erected the tower in September. The city paid $110,000 for the tower and six base radios, and the City Council recently approved about $7,000 for fencing. Most of the money for the tower came from the city’s general fund, but $12,000 was from a federal Justice Assistance Grant for technology and $10,000 was from the drug forfeiture fund, according to Massey and City Manager Michael Roy.

The tower became fully operational about five weeks ago when the final antenna was installed on it, Massey said. The city and all the communities the city dispatches for have licenses from the Federal Communications Commission for the tower. Delta Ambulance is using a lower part of the tower for its antenna and a lower level of wattage until it receives its updated FCC license, according to Massey.

The tower is connected to the radio room inside the police department. The FCC regulates how much wattage is used by an agency and thus how high on the tower its antenna can be, Massey said.

Before moving to Colby Street two years ago, the Police Department was housed in the basement of City Hall and used the communications tower on top of the building. That tower has been there at least as long as Massey has been with the department – 30 years.

The old tower is scheduled to be removed when the City Hall roof is replaced this summer, according to Roy.

“I think the most important thing, from my perspective, is that the city is the dispatching agent for eight towns and Delta,” Roy said, “and so it’s very, very important that we keep our equipment up to date, and I think now, with the tower, we’re capable of providing that service well into the future. I think it’s an important thing to do, and I think it’ll be good for our customers too.”

THE BEST FIT

Craig Johnson, who retired Thursday as Clinton police chief, said Wednesday that between the new tower and the Clinton Police Department’s new repeater, a system that receives a broadcast and rebroadcasts with more power, communications are much better.

“I’m very pleased,” Johnson said.

He said that on Wednesday he was on River Road in Clinton with a limb down over the road that took wires with it. He was able to use his portable radio to speak with the Waterville Communications center, which was unusual.

“Before, that wouldn’t happen,” he said. “You had to be just in the right spot or go back to the cruiser.”

Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary also reports better service because of the new tower.

“I think it’s been a benefit to our reception in the area, and I truly appreciate the Waterville Police Department for being progressive in getting that communication tower completed,” O’Leary said Thursday. “It has helped us tremendously. We actually did a radio upgrade where we put repeaters in all our cars, which just increased our radio communications.”

Massey said the communities Waterville dispatches for pay a fee to Waterville based on their population. The tower is a pretty common type for larger police departments, and the taller they are, the better the reception, and the higher the cost, he said.

The 140-foot tower was recommended for Waterville, and police and city officials agreed it was the best fit, he said. “It’s what we felt was a good height for us, given the geography surrounding us, including hills and buildings. All of that was taken into consideration when we were determining how high a tower we needed.”