The Orange County Sheriff’s Office will use a federal grant to buy digital radios, which Sheriff Keith Merritt said is part of Southeast Texas’ law enforcement future.

County commissioners in regular session this week changed the scope of the $185,000 grant regarding security cameras along Farm Road 1006 – to the newer radios.

Merritt said the FM 1006 grant hit several obstacles and his department wouldn’t be able to make the grant deadline. 

Purchasing radios will still keep the grant within the original guidelines which specify communications equipment. The grant is 100 percent funded with no match to the county.

All law agencies in Southeast Texas are starting a push toward digital radios, Merritt said, with the unofficial deadline being sometime late in 2011. 

The old analog systems will still be used until all agencies make the switch. 

Agencies presently use the 800 megahertz band and will continue to do so within the digital spectrum.

Digital transmissions cannot generally be picked up on scanners available to the public, Merritt said, and law enforcement officials like that since many criminals use the devices to monitor broadcasts.

The original grant, to enhance security near Orange County industrial locations, was approved in April, 2008, and funded by the Justice and Homeland Security departments, among others.

New county health program

Personnel Director Jill Frillou discussed a new health program available to county employees within the Texas Association Counties system, which Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose said could save money based on TAC surveys.

The Planned Actions Toward Health, or PATH, will cost county employees who sign up $30. Spouses are also eligible since they’re covered through county insurance benefits.

“We want to start stressing health education and quality of life for employees,” Frillou said. “With the healthier our employees are, and the benefits we’re going to get as far as absenteeism and employee health awareness – we’re excited about all the information that TAC is making available to us that we can share.”

The program has an Olympics theme and lasts 10 weeks. March 6 is the deadline to sign-up. After further instructions, employees will be able to register online. Answers will be kept confidential.

“You log your walking hours is basically what you do,” Frillou said. “Every employee will get a pedometer.”

Contests and challenges can be made between departments within the county, or even extend to other counties, she said.

“This can create lifestyle changes,” Dubose said, adding that TAC reports a 3 to 1 return in other counties. 

Assuming all 400,000 Orange County employees sign up, it will cost $12,000 to implement a program that could see an overall savings of $36,000.

Through seminars throughout the year, the county also offers employees information on diet, nutrition, diabetes and other health topics.