After weeks of mulling the necessity of a $27 million project to switch York County's radio frequencies, commissioners on Monday said they will move forward with the federally mandated change.
Congress ordered the switch to a different bandwidth a few years ago, following a recommendation from a federal commission formed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Officials had been operating under the assumption they were forced to move forward with the costly project to shift from its current T-band frequency to the 700 MHz frequency.
But after they approved project-related contracts in December, an industry professional questioned whether the move was necessary and whether Congress even planned to uphold the law.
They spent the following weeks gathering information from other industry professionals, the Federal Communications Commission, federal legislators, and local fire and police officials.
President York County Commissioner Steve Chronister said Wednesday he was still concerned that Congress could change the law in several years, after York has already spent the money to make the change, but moving forward is the most prudent decision given the information at hand right now.
Local police and fire officials spoke in favor of the change, and the FCC and legislators have said the law is in effect and there are no known efforts to overturn it.
Vice president commissioner Doug Hoke said Wednesday that he's still concerned about the nebulous details surrounding how the federal government will reimburse counties who make the switch, but commissioners can't wait to move forward with the project when the county's security and communications are at risk.
County commissioner Chris Reilly said he had never been swayed from his original vote, which was to proceed with the project.
The work must be completed by 2019, when the government will take back the bandwidths currently being used, said Eric Bistline, director of the York County Department of Emergency Services.
While that's years in the future, Bistline said there's some urgency in acquiring the new frequency because there will be a lot of competition; York is located between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and they'll be needing bandwidth, too, he said.
Bistline said after the meeting that he understands why there was protracted argument about the project, as there are "a lot of unknowns," he said.
"But this is the right thing to do," he said, and community stakeholders are standing behind the commissioners' decision.
The project is expected to start in March and run 41 months, with completion and a new system launch expected in summer 2017.
The largest contract approved in December was a $20.6 million agreement under which Harris Corp. of Virginia would move county radio communications into the new system.
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