The future of a $27 million project to change York County's radio frequencies is still up in the air as county commissioners mull conflicting information about whether it's even necessary.
Officials had been operating under the assumption they were forced to move forward with the costly project to address a federally mandated shift from its current T-band frequency to the 700 MHz frequency.
To that end, in December they approved four contracts. Without going to bid, they voted to spend more than $25 million to start the process.
But the day after approving the contracts, President Commissioner Steve Chronister received an email from industry professional Mike Corcoran questioning whether the commissioners had made the right decision to move forward with the project.
Corcoran, who said he has worked with two-way radio and public safety communications since 1974, told Chronister the
U.S. Congress might not even uphold the mandate calling for the switch.
So commissioners researched the issue and aired findings during a 90-minute meeting Monday, with all speakers but
Corcoran in favor of pushing forward with the changes.
No changes: Consultant Mike Brown of SSC in Elkton, Md., said his research through calls to a high-level legal counselor in the U.S. House of Representatives showed there's no pending legislation about overturning the mandate, nor are there are even discussions about overturning it.
He said several other counties are already moving forward with the changes and securing the necessary frequencies soon is important because the bandwidth is "beach-front property" that's in high demand.
"When it's gone, it's gone," he said.
He said Corcoran is a competing radio services vendor, and it's not unusual to hear "negativity" from the competition after deals have been inked.
Bob Reilly, the deputy chief of staff for Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, also attended the meeting. He said he's not aware of any legislation that would overturn the mandate to switch frequencies.
'Last minute': County fire officials spoke in favor of the switch, saying the different frequency would improve communications and interoperability with other counties.
Richard Shank, retired fire chief from Manchester Township, told commissioners waiting until "the last minute" with the change will jeopardize communications, make the transition even more expensive, and cause delays.
Steve Buffington, President of York County Fire Association, said it would be a mistake for commissioners to veer from the course they charted in December because of "vague and inaccurate" statements.
Corcoran rebutted that he's curious who's "knocking down the door" to get the 700 MHz frequency.
He told commissioners they should take their time if they want to move forward, and at least talk to other vendors and put the project out to bid.
The largest contract approved last month was a $20.6 million agreement under which Harris Corp. of Virginia would move county radio communications into the new system. Eric Bistline, director of the York County Department of Emergency Services, said the projects weren't sent to bid because they fall under exceptions for proprietary work and professional services.
Undecided: All three county commissioners said they were uncertain about how to proceed. President Commissioner Steve Chronister said he's still trying to digest all of the information, and it could be "a while" before commissioners react.
Vice-president Commissioner Doug Hoke said it's not clear how long commissioners have to cancel the earlier approved contracts, or whether they need to. He was swayed by some of Monday's testimony in favor of completing the project, he said, but he's still unsure.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.