Either York City's 127-year-old fire-alarm system is an antique that's not worth the cost of repairing -- or it's a time-tested first-alert tool that still can't be beat.
Some city officials, however, are trying to have it both ways.
Earlier this year the city council rejected a proposal to phase out the Gamewell alarm system that has been alerting firefighters to blazes since 1886.
The system needs nearly $750,000 in repairs, and in October York City Fire Chief David Michaels posed the question: "Is it time we get out of the fire-alarm business?"
Public Works Director Jim Gross thought it was. He called the Gamewell system "an antique" the city is constantly repairing and said "its reliability is becoming an issue."
Maintaining the system costs about $84,000 a year, or roughly the amount collected in revenue each year from an annual $360 fee charged to connected businesses, plus the $5,000 hook-up fees properties pay.
That's a fairly reliable revenue stream, considering new businesses are required to connect to the system.
But the cash-strapped city would have to go hunting for the $730,000 needed to replace Gamewell's nearly 100 miles of wire, a process that could take years.
Thus the proposal to phase out the system, which would also alleviate the financial burden on city businesses. These businesses instead would be required to acquire a fire-alarm system monitored by a private company.
Most of the 320 properties connected to the Gamewell system, in fact, also are hooked up to a private alternative, Michaels said, because redundancy is required by the state fire code.
The trouble with those private companies, Gamewell proponents argue, is their systems typically require a company representative to alert 911 dispatchers, who in turn alert the fire department.
The current system, on the other hand, sends an electric signal directly to fire stations once triggered manually or by the presence of smoke.
That extra step required by private companies can add precious minutes to the fire department's response time.
This was the main reason city council voted 3-2 to keep the Gamewell system.
Now, however, Councilman Michael Helfrich -- who was among the members opting to keep the system -- wants to give businesses the ability to opt out of the requirement they connect to Gamewell.
That is, as long as as long as Chief Michaels approves the property's use of an alternative system, which must be redundant -- meaning there is an independent backup to the primary system.
But what happened to Gamewell being hands-down the best system around? Isn't that why council voted to keep it -- despite its age and the sky-high cost of repairing it?
Now we hear there are comparable alarm systems, at least good enough that the chief might sign off on them.
In that case, perhaps the council should reconsider the idea of phasing out Gamewell.
Maybe Helfrich sees his proposal as a compromise, a way for the city to keep its system (nostalgia, perhaps) and for businesses to save money.
What happens, though, if a significant number of businesses do opt out?
Currently, the cost of operating Gamewell is a wash. So as businesses decide to save money with private alternatives, the city will pay more for a system installed when Grover Cleveland was president -- and that's in addition to the $730,000 needed just to bring it up to snuff.
Half measures are only going to make this situation worse. The council should pick a course of action and stick with it.