By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Commission wants its environmental committee to recommend either a single-site wide band paging system for emergency responders or a single-site paging system capable of future expansion before moving ahead with a budget amendment after a bid came in $28,962 above what was budgeted.
In a work session of the full commission Monday night, Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, said, "I believe the consensus going out of there [a July 24 work session] was we were going to go for a single-site, paging-only, wide-band radio system."
Lynch noted both the budget amendment that allocated $100,000 for the project and the title of the request for proposals (RFP) referred to a single-site, paging-only, wide-band radio system. Only one bid was submitted, from Communications Group, Com Tech, of Nashville, for $128,962. Lynch said at least one vendor stated the project would require engineering, based on the RFP, and they were not prepared to invest resources to engineer the project.
Lynch continued, "I was confused why a single-site, paging-only, wide-band UHF system would require a lot of engineering, so I got a copy of the RFP. It clearly stated that the ability to expand to additional sites at a later date. It added paging receiver and equipment for six EMS stations, and repair and re-crystal 90 Motorola pagers. It went on to state that it should be built with future expansion in mind, meaning more than one site."
The project is necessitated by a Federal Communications Commission mandate requiring all state and local public safety entities to go to narrow-band communication on Jan. 1, 2013. When that goes into effect, the county will lose about 30 percent of its pager coverage in the county for volunteers and firefighters.
Lynch said his conversations with Comm Tech indicated there could be significant savings to the county if the future expansion ability and ability to simulcast was removed, saving up to 50 percent on the transmitter alone. He added one of the partners of Comm Tech had stated that even if the county wanted to go to a multi-site system in five years or so, it might still be more cost effective to do single-site now and expand later.
"Either we're building a multi-site system here that will be capable for voice, data over IP, simulcast, etc., or we're building a site to allow us to page volunteer firemen with equivalent ability we have today," Lynch said.
Eric Ritzman, county emergency radio system consultant, said much of the added features, which are above what was wanted, are often rolled into a package.
"It's like buying a car," Ritzman said. "You may want one without power windows and door locks, but you're probably not going to get it. It's one of those things where they roll a lot of that into the package as a sales tool and because it costs them very little."
Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, said the emergency services committee had discussed upgrades to the communications system and adding capability to expand in the future to offer better coverage. But Lynch said that proposal had never come before the budget commission or the full commission for a vote.
The single-site system with multi-site capability would provide the groundwork for expansion in the future at less cost, Ritzman said.
"The future is a multi-site system, which is what the users want. A three-site, simulcast paging system is what the users," Ritzman said. "It will cost more to replace the transmitter and microwave."
The microwave is the link to the dispatch center.
Ritzman had previously estimated the cost for the single-site system capable of multi-site expansion at $125,000, which is close to the actual bid.
Lynch said, "It's still a different system. I feel we went from trying to solve the problem of paging volunteer firefighters to getting the first site of a multi-site system. I don't know why we'd want to go with old technology with all the bells and whistles just to page firemen."
Koester said, "When we turn on the system, we'll see where the short falls are and can start planning to add on without replacing equipment. I'm afraid we're being pennywise and pound foolish."
Jeff Dodson, Cumberland County fire chief and EMS director, said, "We definitely need a plan to add a couple of sites if that's what it takes to get adequate coverage for the county. None of us know for certain how good the coverage will be."
Ritzman said he would contact Comm Tech for information on future costs to upgrade a basic single-site system to a multi-site system next year.
The work session adjourned and was quickly followed by a meeting of the emergency services committee. Allen Foster, 4th District commissioner, said, "There are two issues we need to look at. First, we need to decide if we will provide paging. Second is will we have a single site only, or single site that is multi-site capable?"
The committee had little time to discuss the issue with the monthly county commission meeting set to begin at 6 p.m. and agreed to meet Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 4:30 p.m. in the small courtroom of the Cumberland County Courthouse. A budget amendment on the agenda of the commission was tabled. The emergency services committee is charged with developing a recommendation on single site or single site with multi-site capability.