By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers said Monday the county should pay the mobile-radio installation and programming charges for local agencies that will use the new county public-safety radio system.
The county is already providing the digital radios themselves to local fire departments, ambulance squads and other users without charge.
Now the County Board of Supervisors is preparing to seek bids to install and program the new VHF high-band radios in firetrucks, police cars, highway department trucks and ambulances countywide.
The expense would be paid by the county instead of the departments themselves, county leaders said.
“There are some departments out there that can’t afford to do it,” said Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington), who chairs the County Public Safety Committee.
The estimated cost from one company, Wells Communications of Plattsburgh, was $700 for each radio installation, plus a $50-per-radio programming fee, but the county will now get bids from other vendors.
About 440 radios must be installed, and the county hopes that by bidding the work it will be less than the $330,000 total cost that individual departments and agencies would have had to share.
The old radios are analog and operate on incompatible VHF low-band frequencies that can’t be used when the new system goes online later this year.
The new system includes multiple tower sites to dispatch and link public-safety agencies in the county to the County 911 Center in Lewis. Construction is expected to get under way in the spring.
COVERING THE EXPENSE
Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) said the Lewis Volunteer Fire Department was unhappy with the $750-per-truck fee it would have had to pay to have the new radios installed.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said agencies could hire any installer they wish.
“Ticonderoga Fire Department hired their own installer. It would be the board’s option if they wish to cover the cost. I’m not opposed to it.”
The Public Safety Committee unanimously voted to seek bids for the installation and programming.
“I think it’s something the county should be paying for,” Preston said. “I think we’re getting closer every day (to building the new radio system).”
Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) said her volunteer departments don’t have the money to pay for installation of the new radios.
“The radios may be sitting there not used because they can’t afford to do that (install them). Our Fire Department did have questions about that.”
PUSHING UP COSTS
County Manager Daniel Palmer said that assuming the installation cost for the radios might take them over the $10 million bond previously authorized for the county share of the $17 million project.
“It’s up to you,” Palmer told supervisors.
Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said they can decide how to pay for the work once the bids are opened.
Palmer said the county was notified on Feb. 8 that it is getting another $2.25 million in state grants for the radio project, for a total of $4.83 million. The county is also getting $2 million from State Police and $580,000 from New York State Electric & Gas toward their parts of the project, for a total of $7.4 million in grants and shared funding.
“That will bring us below the $10 million bond originally authorized four years ago,” Palmer said.
The radio-installation bidding will get another vote at the County Ways and Means session on Feb. 25 and a final vote March 4 at the board’s regular meeting.
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