By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
The emergency services committee approved a motion Wednesday night to move forward with a single site paging system with the capability to expand in the future and request the budget committee to appropriate the extra $20,000 for the project.
"I'm tired of us beating a dead horse here and I'm going to recommend a resolution that we go forward with this system as it was stated," said 5th District Commissioner Joe Koester.
The emergency services committee was charged with developing a recommendation on single site or single site with multi-site expansion capability after the county had two work sessions and several meetings regarding the project.
Cumberland County must meet an FCC mandate of moving to narrowband frequency by Jan 1, 2013. When doing so, the county will lose about 30 to 50 percent of its paging coverage. Therefore, the county was advised to set up a wideband frequency paging system for the fire department volunteers who use pagers.
Ninth District Commissioner Carmin Lynch said he didn't understand why it was necessary to have the added expense of expansion capability.
"On July 24 we were talking about single site. What don't we need in this $128,000 plan if we're just making it a single site?" Lynch asked.
Steve Rich, of Communications Group, the sole bidder on the project attended the meeting and addressed questions.
Lynch asked several times how much less it would be to make it only a single site paging system with no expansion capability.
"That's what we thought we were doing here in the beginning," Lynch said.
Both Rich and Eric Ritzman, county emergency radio system consultant, said it would roughly cost $50,000 to $60,000.
"What was requested, though, was a single site that was to be expandable. If you don't do that, it will cost extra to add more sites to fill in the dead spots," Rich said.
"More, but what's more? How much is that?" Lynch asked.
Ritzman then explained the emergency services committee was originally presented with a plan for a three-tower site paging system that would alleviate most of the dead spot coverage areas in the west end of the county.
"The cost was estimated at around $350,000 and I was requested to make it a single site proposal with room to expand in the future. That's what we did," Ritzman said.
Ritzman also explained that by lowering wattage on the tower for the single site from 250 to 100, it would bring down the cost to make the single site project come in around $120,000.
Rich said the county may not even be able to obtain a license for the 100 watt frequency because it is so late and the county hasn't applied for the license.
"I thought you were going to apply for the license," Lynch said to Ritzman. "Why haven't you applied for it?"
"There was no written guarantee that you (the county) were going to go forward with it," Ritzman said.
"We've already approved $100,000 for the project," Lynch said.
Lynch said there was only one bid on the project and that concerned him.
"I'm trying to get us the best deal I can here and save the taxpayers money and there's others who are trying to defend what is being proposed. I get concerned when the one proposal comes in at the same dollar figure," Lynch said.
"If you think I told them, I did not. I did not tell anyone the dollar figure. No," Ritzman said.
"I think the reason there was not more than one bid is that we went from a three-tower site down to a one-tower site and just was not economically feasible to do just one for most companies ... I mean, come on. We're dealing with lives and property here. Maybe in the future we will need to expand, but right now it's not on the horizon. We're stuck with this for now, but the hospitals still use it and I think we need to go with paging system and go with the best deal. I think we need to go with the recommended system," Koester said.
"The county is growing. We have to meet the needs for future expansion. You aren't the only one trying to save tax dollars. If we go with a single site we will just be wasting money if we want to expand in the future ... they are telling us we need three now," Allen Foster, 4th District commissioner said.
"We get the advice of the experts, the technicians and the users and user groups and then we come in here and we disregard it," Koester said. "Why not deal with the issue we have at hand and take care of this?"
"It is November and the clock is ticking," Nancy Hyder 2nd District commissioner and emergency services committee chairperson said.
Ritzman said if the county only goes with the single site, non-expandable system, then it will be like losing $70,000 when they have to build another site to expand in the future.
Hyder gave all commissioners an opportunity to ask Rich any questions they had about the system.
Foster said, "When it comes to this, memories get short. If we don't have him do this now and he comes back next year wanting to build the next site and we have $60 to $70,000 more, then you'll be yelling at him and asking why didn't we do it this way to begin with."
After much more debate, Koester made the motion to move forward with the single site, expandable system and it was supported by Roy Turner, 7th District commissioner.
The motion passed in a 6-2 vote.
Voting in favor were commissioners Hyder, Foster, Koester, Terry Carter, 6th District; Turner and Jeff Brown, 8th District.
Voting against the motion were commissioners Johnny Presley, 3rd District; and Lynch.
The committee voted unanimously to request the budget committee to appropriate $12,000 to pay for keeping the two frequencies that are used with the old radio system as back up.
"If you don't keep those frequencies you will alienate about half of the volunteer fire department," Ritzman said.
The budget committee is expected to review the two recommendations at its meeting next month Nov. 6.