York County commissioners are taking a second look at the $27 million decision to change to new radio frequencies for the 911 radio communications system after industry professionals have cast doubt on the decision.
A day after the commissioners approved four contracts related to the switch, President Commissioner Steve Chronister received an email he said questioned whether the commissioners had made the right decision to move forward with the project.
Chronister said the email conversation was with Eric Bistline, director of the York County Department of Emergency Services, and two people who work with radio frequencies and how public safety personnel use them.
One of those people, Mike Corcoran, attended the commissioner's meeting Wednesday and said he has worked with two-way radio and public safety communications since 1974.
Corcoran said the commissioners made a decision to move forward with the switch with incorrect information about the project deadline, and said the county should cancel the contracts until the commissioners can determine if the switch will be necessary at all. The commissioners voted to approve the contracts with the understanding the federally-mandated deadline was 2019.
But Corcoran said that deadline is actually 2021, which he said gives the commissioners extra time to evaluate whether Congress will even uphold the mandate in the coming years.
"The county was jumping the gun on replacing our system," Corcoran said.
The issue: The contracts were initially approved to comply with a federal mandate that all agencies using a bandwidth known as T-Band must turn over that bandwidth to the FCC and join a different bandwidth allocated just to public safety. York County uses the frequency, and falls under the mandate.
Commissioner Doug Hoke said the commissioners made the decision in December based on the best available information from their department heads, vendors, federal representatives and agencies involved in the switch such as the FCC.
Corcoran said he and his company, Capital Area Communications, have been involved in projects to change radio frequencies, though not in York. Corcoran said his concern was as a taxpayer, not a business owner.
"I'm not saying to throw it out and go with another vendor," Corcoran said. "I'm saying throw it out."
Chronister said the emails cast doubt on the decision, fueled by further uncertainty about why the federal mandate would not allow for York's system to stay in place. The county spent $44 million to put a new system in place just over five years ago.
Next: Commissioner Chris Reilly said those unanswered questions, and others about funding for the switch, will be discussed in an upcoming meeting to investigate the issue.
Reilly said he hopes to set up the meeting for next week. Reilly added his hope is to include all interested parties in the discussion, including the commissioners, Bistline, the county's department heads and perhaps Corcoran, among others.
Reilly and Chronister said the contracts approved in December -- most notably one for $20.6 million with Harris Corp. of Virginia -- are binding agreements. But Reilly said there will not be any financial repercussions if the county decides to cancel the contracts before work on the project begins.
Reilly said the commissioners do have time before any cost is incurred: The beginning stages of the work is not scheduled until March, and Reilly said he hopes by then to have a better idea of how to move forward.
Reilly said the conversation will include a dose of caution. The commissioner said his fear is postponing the switch only to pay a larger amount closer to the deadline.
But Reilly said he's eager to hear if there's a way to pay less, or cancel the project altogether with changes in the federal mandate.
If the county can avoid the project, "I'd be the first one dancing in Continental Square," Reilly said.
-- Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.