By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers learned this week that emergency-vehicle radio installations for the new county radio network may cost considerably less than anticipated.
The county’s $330,000 estimate, discussed at a recent meeting, was based on an installation fee of $700 and a $50 programming charge for 440 digital VHF high-band radios. But no vendor had provided that figure, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
He said the price was incorrectly attributed to Wells Communications of Plattsburgh.
“What the installation charges will be haven’t been determined,” he told the County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee on Wednesday. “They (Wells) have served the county for a long time, done an awful lot of work for the county at no charge. They’re a good vendor. They do a good job for us.”
County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said later that the per-radio installation cost from any vendor would probably be closer to $400, and the state contract price is lower yet, at $250 a unit.
“The cost can vary greatly depending on the vehicle it is being placed in. Travel to install is also part of it.”
INTENDING TO PAY
The county was already providing the digital radios to local fire departments, ambulance squads, police and other users without charge.
In addition, the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee voted Monday to seek bids to install and program the new radios in vehicles countywide. The measure will get a final vote at the board’s March regular meeting.
NO PRICES YET
After Monday’s session, Wells Vice President James Adams said by email that his firm has not prepared any installation pricing for the new radios.
“We are still working on that (prices). This is why we were so perplexed by suddenly seeing a price referenced which doesn’t relate to type of vehicle, how many ancillary devices the radio needs to be connected to and more. Wells Communications has not yet provided formal pricing for any size or style vehicle installation associated with this digital project.”
The radios were purchased with a $2.5 million state grant, but it hasn’t been determined yet how the county will pay for installation.
“The installation is still hanging out there,” Palmer said. “My only issue is that it’s a (radio project) budget of $10 million and you add things to it — you have to understand where that will come from.”
Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington), a former fire chief, said his experience is that installation could cost between $400 and $700 a vehicle.
“We’ve said from day one the county is providing mobiles; we didn’t say where that installation is coming from,” he said. “If you’re going to give everybody these radios, what good is it if they don’t install them in their vehicles? It’s a $17 million system everyone needs to participate in.”
Preston said many fire departments didn’t know they would have to be responsible for installation and programming of the new radios, which are required for use of the new system expected to go online late this year.
Some departments indicated they could not afford to put them in.
The total system price, with 26 tower sites, is estimated at $17 million, and the county’s cost after grants and shared-use funding has been estimated at $10 million.
One supervisor, Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro), questioned whether the county should be paying for the installations.
“Is it wise for the county to be paying for radio hookups in fire districts? Fire districts have the right to assess people (through taxation). In our town, we’ve already started it (radio installations).”
A fire district has a board of commissioners that sets an annual budget from which a tax is assessed on property owners within its boundaries. Hatch said he believed the fire districts could add the installation costs to their budgets.
Essex County is replacing an outdated analog radio system with a digital communications network that will be used to dispatch police, fire and emergency-medical services.
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