Carbon County officials are stressing the need to move quickly on the narrowband radio upgrade project now that the county has received a nearly $1 million state grant.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, said that it is extremely important to move forward with purchasing the necessary radio equipment because, if not, the county may risk a $10,000 a day fine after the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. Another concern is the availability of the radios and pagers that are needed to comply with the Federal Communications Commission's mandate.
The county received word Wednesday that it was approved for a $907,453 grant through the Commonwealth Finance Authority's Local Share account. That covers about 80 percent of the estimated $1.4 million cost for the 388 portable radios, 149 mobile radios, and 498 pagers that are needed to upgrade county and municipal EMS, police, and fire department communication systems.
"We want to thank Sens. (Dave) Argall and (John) Yudichak and state Rep. (Doyle) Heffley in assisting us in getting this $907,000 grant toward the purchase of the radio equipment that has to be purchased to upgrade to FCC regulations," Nothstein said. "If we don't comply (by the 2013 deadline) it will cost us $10,000 a day. That is part of the issue. The municipalities have to understand that they are operating under the county license. If they do not change their radios or try to operate on the other frequencies, the county could be fined $10,000 a day.
"The FCC has repeatedly stated they will not extend the deadline and the county cannot afford a $10,000 a day fine," Nothstein added, "So we're looking for cooperation from all municipalities to get them on board and explain everything and try to narrow down their equipment purchases."
He stressed that it is very important that all 19 municipalities who will receive part of the grant attend the upcoming narrowbanding project meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Jan. 31, in the Carbon County Courthouse, Jim Thorpe. The meeting location will either be courtroom 1 or 2, depending on what transpires that day with the ongoing murder trial currently taking place in courtroom 1.
The meeting will include going over the agreements and memorandum of understanding with each municipality for the purchase of the radios and pagers.
"It's something that has to be done," Nothstein said of the project. "I think we all agree we're more than happy to help and gather information and purchase all these radios and pagers. Right now, we need to try and get a good concrete figure on what it's going to cost each municipality. We have our work cut out for us."
All agreements, Nothstein said, must be signed by each municipality and returned to the county by the end of February so the project can move forward.
"We need this information ASAP because our concern is everyone across the country is going to be trying to buy the radios at the same time. We're concerned about the availability of the equipment,"he said.
Nothstein and Commissioner William O'Gurek said that in addition to the grant, the county is looking into using Community Development Block Grant funding to further cover CDBG-eligible municipalities. So far they found four that may be eligible for additional CDBG funding. They also put aside $175,000 in the capital expenses tab of the 2012 county budget for the project.
"I'm looking at it this way," Nothstein said, "we did what we could to try and make it easier on the taxpayers in all municipalities. Nine hundred thousand dollars is a good chunk of money. This is going to benefit every resident throughout this county."
"We put together what we thought was a great package that involved all municipalities in Carbon," O'Gurek added. "It was a chance for this county to do something for every town and township in this county. We're really happy we could do that.
"Since we didn't get it all, they will have a share of the money and I think they should only be too glad to pay whatever percentage of that share is," he continued. "Anything less than 100 percent is a benefit to them. Now we need to put all this together and do the math problem, at this point, to figure out how we distribute that money fairly and equitably to all municipalities for which we applied."
Nothstein agreed, saying that he felt it was a good countywide project.
O'Gurek explained that to help the county prepare the grant application for this project last year, the commissioners hired Delta Development Group Inc. of Mechanicsburg at a cost of $10,000.
"The county invested $10,000 in the application process to get this kind of money," O'Gurek said. "Anytime you can invest $10,000 and get $900,000 and share it with everybody in the county, I think it's a great thing."
Carbon County has been working on the narrowbanding project with area municipalities since early last year when the county commissioners decided to help ease the burden of emergency personnel by applying for a countywide grant.
Officials met with municipalities about the FCC's narrowband mandate and discussed the financial burden it is going to cause municipalities since the equipment costs anywhere between $500 to $2,000 per item.
The FCC mandate states that all emergency personnel, fire and police must update their radios by Jan. 1, 2013. These radios must be able to use 12.5 kHz bandwidth. This is because there are not enough radio frequencies to handle all of the emergency traffic anymore.