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Supervisors delay signing radio deal

Posted on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

MILFORD – County officials appeared ready to sign a contract with Motorola for a $6.5 million public safety radio system, but instead they labored over the annual $239,000 operational fee and the optional software maintenance agreement of $100,000.

Steve R. Garner, a senior account manager with Motorola, met with the Caroline County Board of Supervisors on March 26 to go over the contract, but he walked away with an unsigned pact. Despite deadlines from the federal government to get a new radio system in place, supervisors voted unanimously to table the matter until their April 9 meeting after nearly an hour of discussion.

Late last year, county officials were faced with the possibility of taking the county $8 million into debt for a radio system just to comply with a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission to improve the existing radio system.

The mandate has loomed for years and went into effect Jan. 1. Localities that do not comply face monetary penalties as well as having their radio communications systems closed down. The FCC extended Caroline’s  deadline until May 15 to give the FCC a specific written plan of action on replacing the radio system.

The county received a bid from Motorola early in 2012 for a new radio system. After that, a committee of about eight people representing the agencies that use the communications system – the sheriff’s office, fire-rescue department, and school division – and the county’s administrative staff spent months examining ways to comply with the mandate. The members worked with Motorola, which brought the price down to $6.5 million.

The $239,000 operational cost has been a part of the package for months, but it seemed excessive on March 26 to supervisors when they compared it to the current system’s operational cost of $65,000. In addition, supervisors had just met with the Caroline School Board and discussed the budget and ways for providing 3 percent pay increases for school division employees.

Supervisor Jeff Black questioned whether the “$6.5 million price is really $6.5 or are we really talking about $8 million?”

“There are no hidden costs,” Garner said, adding that Motorola had actually dropped the price by millions of dollars while trying to “keep the integrity of the system.”

Supervisor Wayne Acors asked about sharing a radio tower with Hanover County, and County Administrator Charles Culley said Caroline could rent a Hanover tower for $1,000 a month. Caroline’s system may need eight towers in and outside the county.

Supervisor Calvin Taylor expressed concern about spending so much money, only to see the technology change and require the county to update its system.

Garner said Motorola would provide Caroline with a 700 mega hertz system, which the FCC will mandate in 2017. That would provide the county with 95 percent coverage, which is “standard in the industry,” he noted. “We can never guarantee you 100 percent. There will always be issues.”

Hanover was promised 95 percent coverage but tested at 98 percent and Spotsylvania ended up with 99 percent, Garner said.

The radio system would cost the county $500,000 annually for 17 years, Underwood said. “This is far beyond $6.5 million,” he added.

Supervisor Jeff Sili expressed concern that Motorola’s contract discourages the county from trying to save money by using non-Motorola equipment when equipment upgrades are needed.

“We will make a decision April 9,” Thomas said.

The committee originally evaluated six options, including improving the current VHF system, installing one of three new systems, and partnering with one of two other localities, Hanover County or Spotsylvania County.

The capital costs of the various options range from a low of $1.9 million for improving the current system to a high of more than $8 million to partner with Spotsylvania. The county’s cost over 15 years would range from $3 million to more than $23 million, figures that include the capital cost and associated costs.