We had live coverage of the York County commissioners’ 10 a.m. meeting to discuss what they should about their emergency radio system.
During the meeting, consultants and emergency responder representatives urged York County commissioners to continue with an estimated $27 million project to upgrade and modify the system.
Monday morning’s meeting was a work session. York County commissioners didn’t formally commit to the project, and they didn’t rule it out.
Commissioner Doug Hoke said he thought they made a compelling argument. Commissioner Chris Reilly made similar comments to what he has said earlier: He’d like to avoid spending the money if possible, but doesn’t want to be irresponsible.
President Commissioner Steve Chronister continued to raise concerns about moving forward now.
Commissioners approved about $25 million worth of contracts in December. But Chronister said he got new information and second thoughts afterward.
New federal requirements were passed as part the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and they say certain public safety entities will need to change the frequencies they use to let police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders communicate wirelessly.
For York County, officials say they have to leave the T-Band spectrum that they currently use. They want to move to the 700 MHz spectrum.
What the consultants said
Spectrum has many uses. TV and radio stations use it to broadcast shows. People with mobile phones use it to make calls or search online. Emergency responders use it to communicate with two-way radios.
Sean Petty, one of the consultants, compared spectrum space to beachfront property.
If you don’t move early, it can be hard to get.
“The more and more people that build on it, the less and less you have the ability to build that grand house that you really want,” Petty said. “And eventually you’re going to get to the point …. where your plans are going to be diminished for your house, and maybe you’re only looking at a shed to build, because you just can’t get enough spectrum.”
The concern for the county is that it will be forced off the T-Band spectrum, and it won’t be able to get enough frequencies to provide fast, reliable coverage for emergency responders.
Petty said that for decades, there’s been a migration to higher and higher frequency ranges “as that beachfront property has become unavailable.”
Michael Browne, another consultant, said there’s no indication that the T-Band legislation will be overturned.
He said several entities around the country are also acquiring new frequencies and taking action to leave the T-Band spectrum.
“You’re not the first. You won’t be the last,” Browne said. “And I’m sure they’re all having just as difficult decisions as you are.”
Browne said that York County ended up on the T-Band spectrum to begin with because there wasn’t other spectrum space available at the time.
“So acting now, and getting those frequencies allocated for York County, is imperative,” Browne said.
What representatives for emergency responders said
Richard Shank, a retired fire chief for Manchester Township Department of Fire Services, said the move was a good one.
He said if they wait to the last minute, they’re going to be like they were back when they left their old system and moved to the current one.
“We’re going to be scurrying and going crazy,” Shank said.
Steve Buffington, a former fire chief for York, is president of the association that represents York County fire chiefs and firefighters.
“I’m urging you to stay the course,” Buffington told commissioners.
He said when the current radio system was being designed and implemented, there was no way for anyone to know the county would have to migrate off the T-Band spectrum.
Joe Madzelan, deputy chief for Manchester Township, said the change will improve the ability to communicate with Adams and Cumberland counties, as well as some in Maryland.
He said the T-Band spectrum wasn’t the first choice for the current system.
“700 MHz is where we wanted to be to begin with,” Madzelan said.
He said York County will serve as a model for others.
What York County commissioners said
Hoke: “I think you made a lot of compelling arguments today,” he said.
He referred to Lancaster County’s decision to continue building its new system that will use the T-Band spectrum.
“That’s their decision. But I think our decision has to be based on the facts presented today,” Hoke said.
Reilly: He said he appreciated the input. “It’s a tough decision we have to make,” Reilly said.
Chronister: “I’m more concerned about committing to all this money, maybe just a little bit too early on,” he said.