Utah cities and counties have until July 1 to say if they're in on a $20 million statewide project that converts the communication of emergency services to the 800 megahertz bandwidth.

Steve Proctor, director of the Utah Communication Agency Network, said he expects cooperation. Some letters - all positive - have already been received.The project, spearheaded and directed by the agency, has been in planning stages for 10 years and is projected to be up and running by the end of 1999.

An implementation date is necessary because the Federal Communications Commission is refarming the current frequencies involved in Utah's police, fire, medical and other public safety-related communication. This splits the lower parts of the spectrum between more users, resulting in reduced power.

The FCC has set aside the 800 bandwidth especially for public safety uses.

"We are at the critical stage," said Jake Hunt, a UCAN executive board member and captain with the Davis County sheriff's department. "We're all in a real dilemma here. The bottom line is that we're out of channels."

Emergency communication equipment statewide may be three decades old and cause problems, such as making communication between officers and dispatchers difficult. This happens multiple times a day and can be a huge problem, Hunt said.

The system's $20 million price tag will be divided among users in the city, county and state, who will tentatively pay $20 per radio, per month. Officials say they aren't sure where the money will come from at this point but increasing taxes or dipping into reserve or departmental funds are options.

The radio fee covers costs of the new system's infrastructure, which includes sites and towers, radio equipment, the central controller, maintenance and microwave receivers, Proctor said.

Entities will have to fund other equipment additionally, and the infrastructure fee coupled with this may drive total costs to millions of dollars.

The state will probably contribute half of the total price because of its many emergency agencies, Proctor said.

UCAN received a $3 million grant from the federal Justice Department, and Proctor said the agency is searching for additional grants to drive down costs.

Tom Hardy, Bountiful city manager, said his city is committed to the project because officials there recognize the unified system provides statewide inter-agency communication. This type of com-mu-ni-ca-tion is only facilitated through the new system because radios cannot communicate on several different bands, Hardy said.

However, other officials have expressed concern that costs might not be competitive because Mo-torola is the only infrastructure provider.

After bidding, Motorola received the sole contract for services because major manu-fac-tur-ers are not inter-operational, Proctor said.

If all goes as planned and everyone cooperates, the project's first phase will be under way. This puts Utah's eight most populated counties - Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Utah, Tooele, Wasatch, Morgan and Summit - on the 800 megahertz system.

The second part of the project includes getting rural areas on the system, and Proctor said entities can join later as the service expands.