Steuben County legislators approved Monday using reserve funds to pay for a new emergency communication system mandated by the federal government.

Steuben County legislators approved Monday using reserve funds to pay for a new emergency communication system mandated by the federal government.

Legislators agreed to use $750,000 from the county’s “Communication Reserve Fund” toward the purchase of the $1.1 million Motorola narrowband system. The system is expected to improve communications between dispatchers and emergency responders across the county.

But a plan to take $381,000 set aside for future use with the old health care facility drew some opposition.

“It bothers me we spend $1.1 million for some gizmo,” said Legislator Tom Ryan. “When we’re looking at all these cuts next year … maybe not do any roads, who knows? We might not be able to do home health care any more. Who knows? And we’ve got to spend money for this?”

County Administrator Mark Alger said the Federal Communications Commission has mandated the new system be in place by the end of 2012. The FCC intends to sell airwaves now used by responders and could order police, fire and ambulance crews to cut their transmissions once the new regulations take effect, Alger said.

“I wouldn’t want to be a deputy out somewhere and have that happen,” Alger said.

Legislator Dan Farrand, R-Rathbone, objected to the use of the old health care facility funds to pay for a portion of the Motorola system.

Alger said any decision on the former nursing home appears far off. Legislators have debated for years whether to convert the building into offices or tear it down, and no decision will be made this year, he said.

“If we don’t use this money, we’ll have to borrow,” Alger said. “This (facility) money isn’t going anywhere. If we borrow, we have to pay interest.”

Once a decision is made on the old facility, the money can be included in a later budget, he said.

The county also will apply for a grant that could cover the entire cost of the project. If that happens, the funds would be put back in their reserves, Alger said.

Ryan and Legislator Randy Weaver, D-Hornell, voted against the proposal.

“I hear all the logic, it all makes good sense, but no,” Ryan said.

Legislator Gary Swackhamer, R-Hornell, objected to a separate resolution to extend the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency lease with the county for 108 acres of land on State Route 54.

“We need to have more control over the land,” Swackhamer said. “We need to have a say.”

However, any development on county land must be approved in public by the Legislature, and could scuttle projects before they began, officials said.

The lease also allows the county IDA to focus on the objectives of Steuben’s new economic development plan and look for smaller enterprises as well as light industrial or manufacturing, according to SCIDA Executive Director Jamie Johnson.

Johnson told legislators his agency is looking for ways to develop smaller projects on the property, and subdivide it if necessary.

“We’re not talking 300 jobs at once,” he said. “More like 20 here, 20 there.”

The lease was approved 15-1, with Swackhamer voting against the lease. Legislator Don Creath, R-Corning City, was absent.