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County approves $2 million emergency system contract
York County commissioners approved a five-year contract Wednesday worth more than $2.1 million for maintenance of the county's emergency management systems.
The deal with Patriot Communications LLC in Elkton, Maryland, on behalf of the county's Department of Emergency Services, which encompasses 911 and emergency management, runs from Aug. 1, 2016, until July 31, 2021.
The system had been maintained through multiple contracts of various lengths by Harris Corp., which is still in charge of switching the county's radio system from T-Band to 700 megahertz.
Eric Bistline, the department's executive director, said the maintenance contract was put out for bid to receive competitive offers even though the department isn't required to do so.
The department was seeking three-year contract offers with options for two additional years to see if the county could save money, Bistline said, but Harris Corp. submitted a one-year, $522,460 offer and indicated any future years would include 4 percent increases.
Patriot's offer, which covers the radio, microwave and paging systems, was for $479,500 in year one, $115,000 in year two, $493,885 in year three, $508,701 in year four and $523,962 in year five.
Bistline said the steep drop in price during year two is because that's when the county is expected to switch over to the 700 MHz radio system, which will be under warranty.
"That's a significant savings over five years," Bistline told the commissioners.
New system coming: The decision to put the contract out for bid stands in contrast with the county's approvals of contracts in 2013 totaling $27 million to replace the department's radio system.
The largest portion of that sum came from a $20.6 million contract with Harris Corp. that Bistline said at the time hadn't been sent out to bid.
The decision came on the heels of a federal mandate requiring emergency management departments to turn all T-Band bandwidth over to the Federal Communications Commission and switch to 700 MHz.
The mandate was a result of a recommendation from a federal commission formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The county had just completed a $44 million overhaul of the system five years before the commissioners approved the new contract.
During early 2014 meetings, commissioners contemplated canceling the contract after a local communications industry professional cast doubt over whether the switch was necessary, but ultimately they elected to uphold the approval.
"It was one of the toughest decisions I've had to make," Commissioner Doug Hoke said Thursday. "I think we did the right thing (because) we'll be better prepared."
Hoke said the commissioners were informed at the time that moving quickly would save money and keep the county "ahead of the curve."
The federal government is supposed to reimburse the county part of the cost, but Hoke said the reimbursement timetable has been pushed back until 2021, when all emergency management systems must be in compliance.
The county has taken out various bonds to pay for the new system and is still paying those back, Hoke said.
Concerns: Mike Corcoran, a Carroll Township resident who serves as president of CAC Communications in Harrisburg, was the man who expressed his concerns to the commissioners in 2014, and he said he still believes the county could have benefited from waiting.
Corcoran said there's been talk at the state level about expanding these systems on a regional basis, which could have resulted in lower costs for the county.
Bistline said the switch to 700 MHz, which is expected to be complete July 31, 2017, will improve communication with counties, including Adams and Cumberland, that have already made the switch, but require patchwork to communicate with other counties, including Dauphin and Lancaster, that so far are sticking with T-Band.
Corcoran added he doesn't believe the price for the 700 MHz system has increased, which was a major concern for commissioners at the time of approval, and the contract should have at least been put out for bid to save taxpayers money.
Corcoran said he's still not positive the FCC will implement its mandate, as the agency has received pushback from larger cities, including Philadelphia and Boston.
Bistline said the 700 MHz system should improve first responders' ability to communicate with each other within buildings, but the T-Band system, which is 500 MHz, covers wider distances.
Transition to the new system might require additional training, but Bistline said the goal is to make those changes minimal or improve functionality.