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Emergency Communications System to cost $4.2 million more

July 03, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Franklin County will spend an additional $4.2 million in taxpayer money during the next 10 years to upgrade its emergency communications system.

The Franklin County Commissioners voted Tuesday to change a 2006 contract with Motorola and upgrade the county's technology to a more-expensive, safer and reportedly longer-lasting system.

Initially, the county contracted with Motorola to install a new UHF or 800 megahertz, ultra-high frequency system.

The county was denied a UHF license by the Federal Communications Commission, and Commissioner Bob Thomas said the Franklin County Emergency Services Alliance recommended changing the order to a digital trunking system.

In 2006, the commissioners signed a $2.3 million contract with Motorola to purchase a new UHF system for the county that would be compatible with the FCC's new banding requirements.

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The county also contracted with Alcatel of Plano, Texas, to install a $674,000 digital microwave system to connect all of the UHF sites and with JG Contracting Co. of Pittsburgh to build a new $369,000 tower and communications shed on Clark's Knob in Letterkenny Township.

The new system is laden with features that were not found on the UHF system, Thomas said.

"Officers can call for backup with the push of a button," he said. "Encryption is also key, and this system is heavily encrypted."

Thomas said safety of the county's emergency responders was at the heart of the commissioner's decision to more than double the total project cost.

"It is incumbent on us to ensure our firefighters, emergency service and police agencies get the best communications capabilities available," Thomas said. "It is a matter of public safety."

Purchasing the more expensive system will require the county to borrow more money.

The commissioners in 2004 gave the go-ahead for a $39 million bond issue that included $4 million for the new radio system.

The county has been moving on the project since 2003 and has installed five new towers to meet the new FCC regulations, Thomas said.

Motorola's Government Financing Division will finance the additional $4.2 million needed for the radio project, he said.

Thomas said the financing is a "great deal" as it allows the county to pay back Motorola within 10 years and gain ownership of the system.

Before the change order, 71 separate entities throughout Franklin County needed about $5 million in new radio equipment to be compatible with the UHF system.

Thomas said the total $6.7 million project will only upgrade the county's system to digital trunking technology.

Those 71 agencies will still need to upgrade base radios, portable radios, mobile radios, pagers and encrypted radios to be compatible with the county.

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