SUNBURY - Northumberland County commissioners will pay approximately $200,000 for radio equipment for law enforcement agencies as part of an enhanced, countywide, two-way wireless communications system.

On Tuesday, the board also approved a $470,000 change order for additional improvements and equipment for the 911 radio project.

When the commissioners awarded a $7.2 million contract to Motorola Solutions Inc. June 26, 2013, to provide the new system, only tower site equipment and mobile and portable radios and pagers for fire and emergency medical services personnel in the current coverage area were included. The total contract and possible tower site improvements such as electrical work and an equipment shelter will not exceed $8.5 million.

The federally mandated system must be operating by the end of the year to meet the extended deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If the deadline is not reached, the county faces fines.

Change order

Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy approved the change order with Motorola Solutions and the motion to purchase Kenwood mobile and car radio equipment totaling $197,869.25 for Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township, Kulpmont, Shamokin, Coal Township, Ralpho Township, Zerbe Township, Sunbury, Northumberland and Point Township police, and the county's sheriff and probation departments.

Shoch voted against the change order, but agreed to purchase the radio equipment for the law enforcement agencies. Shoch's affirmative vote prompted criticism from Clausi, who claimed the commissioner has been against the 911 radio project from the beginning due to costs and concerns over coverage issues in the northern end of the county, but decided Tuesday to pay more money for the radio equipment for the law enforcement agencies.

Clausi said since the project was under budget, the county had enough funding to purchase the additional radio equipment for the law enforcement agencies.

State-of-the-art system

Sean Petty, senior technology specialist with Mission Critical Partners, Harrisburg, updated the commissioners on the 911 radio project.

He explained that the $470,000 change order was requested because $850,000 in improvements have been made since the contract was awarded last year, while approximately $400,000 in anticipated improvements were deemed unnecessary.

"To meet the tight time line for the project that was extended by the FCC, we had to make some assumptions with the design in order to increase reliability and coverage," Petty said. He said it was difficult to obtain state or federal funding for the project.

Petty said the new system has seven tower sites.

Mount Carmel Police Chief Todd Owens stressed the importance of law enforcement agencies having the same radios and pagers as firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.

"This is a very important undertaking and I want to thank the commissioners, 911 coordinator Bill Brown and Sean Petty for their support with the project," he said. "This is a state-of-the-art system."

He said the new system will eliminate most dead spots that can sometimes place officers in dangerous situations.

Owens said the new radio equipment will allow officers and dispatchers to communicate better instead of having to be dispatched through cell phones.

"We took a lot of heat over this for 1 1/2 years and we must move forward and do what's right," Clausi said.

Project under budget

With the commissioners' approval to purchase the radio equipment for police, the sheriff's office and probation department, Petty said the project will still be approximately $50,000 to $75,000 under budget. If the radio equipment wasn't added, the project would have remained at $250,000 to $275,000 under budget.

Petty said making municipalities pay for the police radios would have placed a heavy burden on the communities, but he said the affected cities, boroughs and townships were willing to enter into a five-year repayment plan with the county to reimburse it for the costs.

27 municipalities covered

The contract approved last year called for a total equipment purchase of $6,669,254 and another $530,746 for three years of system maintenance by Motorola. The first year of maintenance will be covered under warranty by the company.

The county entered into a contract in November 2012 with Mission Critical Partners for approximately $450,000 for consulting services for the upgrades.

He said the very high frequency (VHF)-trunked system will be inter-operable with other counties and will provide coverage for the entire county.

The contract calls for 70 installed and programmed mobile radios, 400 portable radios and chargers, and 490 pagers to be purchased under the contract for fire and emergency medical services personnel in the current service area, which doesn't include Riverside and the northern end of the county.

Clausi previously said it would cost between $60,000 and $100,000 for radios and pagers for fire and EMS personnel in the northern end of the county.

Brown said the county pays $19,836 per year to Montour County to provide dispatching services to Riverside and $71,685 annually to Union County to dispatch emergency calls to the northern end of the county, which includes areas north of Point Township and Route 405.

Brown said the current 911 system covers 27 municipalities including the Klingerstown area in Schuylkill County.