10/16/13 — County makes $3M fix to radio system

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County makes $3M fix to radio system

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 16, 2013 1:46 PM

Wayne County will spend another $3 million on its beleaguered $10 million radio system in hopes of correcting coverage problems the system has experienced since its inception.

The unanimous decision by the Wayne County commissioners came on the heels of a two-hour work session tacked onto their Tuesday agenda.

Officials announced no timetable for the fix -- and no contract has been signed.

The county plans to use money from three different restricted funds to pay for the work: Cable TV franchise, $2,262,548.32; capital reserves, $326,179.68; and radio fund, $472,353, for a total of $3,001,081.

Chairman Steve Keen suggested borrowing the $3 million instead of paying cash.

County Manager Lee Smith said paying cash would be the best option.

One of the primary concerns about the existing system has been adequate coverage under the 95/95 concept. That means that a system will cover 95 percent of the county 95 percent of the time.

Keen pressed for absolute guarantees that the $3 million fix would ensure the county would have the 95/95 all of the time.

He failed to get that guarantee from either the company that will do the work or his own board.

The county approved borrowing $9.7 million in September 2008 for a new digital system designed to replace the then-nearly 40-year-old analog system. The federal government mandated the switch to digital systems.

The original project included two new towers and portable and mobile radios for all of the fire, law enforcement and rescue agencies in the county, including municipalities.

The system has been plagued with problems from the start. It reached the point that the board ended the county's contract with Communications International, which built the system.

In January, commissioners contracted with R&L Consulting to look at the system. In June, Cary-based Radio Communications Co. was hired to audit and to maintain the system and was also asked to research problems with the system and to make recommendations.

Commissioners met Friday in a three-hour closed-door meeting to talk about the system with Bob Hamlin, vice president of R&L Consulting, and Ken Brody, owner of Radio Communications Co., and Randy Griffin, the company's system group manager.

The board justified the closed doors by citing the need to preserve attorney-client privilege. But N.C. Press Association attorney Amanda Martin said they legally should not have kept the session private.

And their apparent discussion of the radio system during the closed-door meeting should have been held in open session anyway, Ms. Martin said.

County staff meeting with commissioners were Parker; Joe Gurley, Office of Emergency Services director; Mel Powers, emergency medical and security director; Brian Taylor, fire marshal; Pam Holt, finance director; Smith; and Marcia Wilson, clerk to the board.

No action was taken after the board returned to open session on Friday.

The same group met during the Tuesday open work session.

Brody's recommendation is to build a new tower east of Goldsboro and to rent space for county radio equipment on a U.S. Cellular tower west of Goldsboro .

Also needed are software and firmware updates to the existing system, he said.

The county budgeted for those updates in the past, but Communications International did not do the work because the county had not accepted the system.

About $500,000 of the $3 million will be for those updates, which should have been performed already, Gurley said.

Brody said the county would continue to use the infrastructure put in place by Communications International.

The new tower, and using the U.S. Cellular tower, should resolve previous coverage issues, including coverage inside of buildings east and west of Goldsboro, he said.

Keen asked Gurley why the original contract had only called for 95/95 outside coverage.

That was the standard at the time, Gurley said. Also, there had been an assumption that there would be inside coverage as well.

Keen told Brody he wanted a guarantee the improvements would meet the 95/95 coverage regardless of the type of building.

Commissioner Wayne Aycock said that the system should work well for stick-built buildings.

"No one, regardless of equipment can guarantee 95/95 for every structure," Aycock said.

That is particularly true for thick buildings like the jail or Wayne Memorial Hospital, he said.

However, Keen on several other occasions still asked about the guarantee.

Keen also asked if there had been a performance bond in the contract with Communications International

There was not, Parker said.

Brody said that his proposal did include a performance bond.

Parker told Keen that he would scrutinize the contract with Radio Communications Co. before sending it to Keen for his signature.