Carbon County officials will try to ease some of the financial burden all municipalities in the county are experiencing as a result of a federal mandate that calls for replacing all current emergency communications with models that can handle narrowband radio frequencies.
During the county commissioners meeting on Thursday, the board discussed a Federal Communications Commission mandate that states, according to the FCC website, "On Jan. 1, 2013, all public safety and business industrial land mobile radio systems operating in the 150-512 MHz radio bands must cease operating using 25 kHz efficiency technology, and begin operating using at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology. This deadline is the result of an FCC effort that began almost two decades ago to ensure more efficient use of the spectrum and greater spectrum access for public safety and nonpublic safety users. Migration to 12.5 kHz efficiency technology will allow the creation of additional channel capacity within the same radio spectrum, and support more users.
"After the 2013 deadline, licensees not operating at 12.5 kHz efficiency will be in violation of the commission's rules and could be subject to FCC enforcement action, which may include admonishment, monetary fines, or loss of license."
This means that all municipalities in the country that use radios, pagers, and mobile devices for emergency personnel will be affected by this changeover from broadband radio frequencies to narrowband radio frequencies.
Commissioner Charles Getz said that the county held an informational meeting about the mandate that was open to all municipalities on Wednesday. Of the 23 municipalities in the county, 14 attended.
Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, explained that this mandate is creating a major financial burden on each of the municipalities, as well as the county, because if equipment is not narrowband capable, it must be replaced. Equipment such as this could cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000 per item.
O'Gurek said to help ease the burden that the municipalities are experiencing for this changeover, the county has decided to organize a countywide grant application to the Local Share Account, which comes from the gaming revenue in the state.
"The three commissioners were talking about this hardship that would be created for our municipalities with fire departments, ambulance companies, police, and in some cases public works departments. We are hopeful that maybe we can help ease the burden by applying for a countywide grant," said O'Gurek. "The commissioners would step up to the plate and be the applicant. We're hoping to create a partnership with all the municipalities in the county; as well as our state Rep. (Doyle) Heffley and two senators (John) Yudichak and (David) Argall, to try and ease the burden by finding the funds that are maybe available for this conversion.
"It's going to be a monumental job and we're under a time constraint. There will be no extensions and a $10,000 per day fine for anyone who has not conformed to it. There is an evolution of communication at stake and the commissioners want to help with that."
Commissioner Nothstein added that the county and municipalities have to act quickly on this project because of the time line for everything and because this is a nationwide issue. This may mean that equipment may not be readily available from now until the Dec. 31, 2012 deadline.
He added that costs per municipality to replace equipment could range between tens of thousands to over $100,000. Carbon County's estimated cost for replacing its emergency communications equipment is $200,000.
Nothstein also stressed that this grant application is not a sure thing.
"There is no guarantee that we will get any of this," he said. "So I would strongly recommend, with the 2012 budget season coming up, that all municipalities start to plan for the worst and include those funds in the budget for those radios.
"But working together with all the municipalities is going to certainly give us a better chance at getting that local share funding."
O'Gurek agreed with Nothstein, adding that nothing is guaranteed on the grant, but the county will make a "good, strong effort to help."
Getz noted that the county is hoping that it will be able to use some of the Community Development Block Grant funding it receives annually to also help cover the costs.
O'Gurek said that if they can, they will.
"We thought it would be more important to spend money if we can on radios, because there is nothing more important than to get police, fire, and ambulance where they need to get," he said. "We want to contribute to this and ease the burden of our municipalities because if they have collectively, a million dollars in expenses next year, we understand they're not going to be able to pay that."
The board said that the next step will be to contact the remaining nine municipalities that didn't attend the meeting; and send out letters to all municipalities informing them that Friday, March 11, is the deadline to opt into the countywide grant application. Municipalities will need to provide an inventory of the equipment it currently has that needs to be replaced.
Nothstein added that this is not a wish list of items wanted, but this is strictly for equipment that the municipality currently has.
Following the deadline, Carbon County officials will determine how much they should apply for through the grant.
"This is a countywide problem," O'Gurek said, "that not only the towns and townships have, but the county as well. We would like for all of us to work together on it."
If a municipality would like more information or would like to opt into the countywide grant application, officials can contact the county at (570) 325-3611 or Gary Williams, the 911 Communications Center manager, at (570) 325-9111.