PAOLA — Miami County Commissioners are poised to consider purchasing a $6.8 million 800 megahertz radio system from Motorola to replace a VHF radio system that has caused heartburn for many first responders, dispatchers and other county officials.
The conditions of the VHF system had deteriorated to the point where the County Commission declared a state of emergency Aug. 14 in order to seek immediate assistance.
County commissioners have already discussed plans to move to a state-of-the-art 800 megahertz system, and commissioned a study by Tusa Consulting Services in December 2018.
The conversion to 800 MHz cannot come soon enough, law enforcement and fire officials have said. Miami County Emergency Medical Services and the Paola Fire Department have already made the conversion to 800 MHz.
“I want (the public) to understand how serious it is to move forward,” Commissioner Rob Roberts said at the commission’s Wednesday, Oct. 23, meeting.
Commissioners met Wednesday with Dennis Ward, senior project manager with Tusa, and later with a representative of Motorola.
Ward said that Tusa was able to negotiate Motorola down from $12 million to $6.8 million. Tusa had leverage in the negotiations because Motorola wants to close the deal in time to have it show up on the 2019 books, and the company wants to keep competitors out of this marketplace, Ward said of Miami County.
“This is probably top 5 for TUSA in the deals we got you. There were a lot of magic tricks that were pulled,” Ward said. “They (Motorola) started off at $12 million for the system. It took a little longer to get to where we needed to be — we had to go up the flag pole at Motorola because we knew there were certain areas they could cut corners on. This is a really awesome deal that you guys are getting.”
In order to get the radio system assembled and ready to ship out by the end of December, Motorola had wanted the county to authorize the contract Oct. 23, but Ward said they would probably wait until the first of November, in order to get the discounted price.
Motorola also was going to look at potential cost savings for the mobiles and portables the county and cities would need to purchase to go with the system. The proposed contract said any subscriber devices (mobiles and portables) purchased within 12 months of the signed contract would receive a 45 percent discount.
Commissioners asked for Tusa to check into bundling all the county and city devices together in order to further lower the price. If the cities of Paola, Louisburg and Osawatomie were agreeable to that plan, they would be obligated to repay the county for their radios.
Miami County commissioners spent portions of several meetings in 2018 discussing options for transitioning some departments from a very high frequency (VHF) radio system to a digital 800 MHz radio system. It’s a move several neighboring counties, including Franklin and Johnson, have already made.
Similar transitions are taking place all across the country as part of a nationwide shift to digital broadcasting, and the need was amplified a few years ago when the Federal Communications Commission mandated narrow banding of the VHF system to make more bandwidth available for other uses.
The county’s timeline was hastened by the need to declare a state of emergency in August.
The emergency declaration said, in part, that under certain conditions, the “county-wide VHF radio system has experienced a complete failure. The failure applies to the City of Louisburg and the rural areas of Miami County which have resulted in no VHF communications… loss of communications may cause or eminently threaten to cause injury or loss of life to the citizens or first responders throughout Miami County.”
Two hours after the county commission declared the emergency Wednesday afternoon, a state-owned mobile communications tower called COW (Communication on Wheels) was being hoisted at 3 p.m. in the parking lot behind the Louisburg EMS/Fire Station.
The commissioners could consider the Motorola contract for the 800 MHz radio system at their meeting Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Roberts said a contract could not be finalized by the originally proposed Oct. 23 date, and that getting a deal done by the end of October was pushing it.
“This is government financing,” Roberts said. “We can’t even buy a car in that time, let alone a $7 million project.”