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Castor to Spearhead Radio Upgrade

The June deadline to submit plans to the Federal Communications Commission looms.

Commissioner Bruce Castor was selected Thursday morning to chair a new ad hoc committee that will help select and design a replacement for the county's .

"The ability of our county's first responders to communicate is of the utmost importance and must be considered by this board carefully and deliberately," Board Chairman Josh Shapiro said.

Castor said he reached out to police chiefs, EMS departments, paid and volunteer firefighters, fire police, municipal governments, and other public safety officials while forming the committee. [A full committee roster is at the bottom of this article.]

"I wanted to put together a group of people who had stakes in the outcome of the project, who had different perspectives to bring to the group. I want to make sure there isn't anyone out there who had a vested interest in the project who didn't have a voice in it," Castor said.

The county has to meet a June deadline to submit plans to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its use of new frequencies being made available to public safety entities in the 700 MHz spectrum. The cost to completely overhaul or replace the county's public safety radio system is expected to exceed $50 million.

"We're putting this on the front burner," Shapiro said.

New labor agreement for 132 county employees

The Board unanimously approved a new three-year labor agreement that covers 132 adult probation, juvenile probation, and domestic relations employees who belong to the American State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union. Among other concessions, the new agreement provides those employees with 2.5 percent wage increases in 2012 and 2013. Most county employees are slated for a 2 percent wage hike this year. No county employees have received raises for the past three years.

Shapiro described the agreement as an issue that had been "punted" by the previous county administration for at least the last two years.

"Neither party got everything they wanted," said county solicitor Raymond McGarry.

Notes:  The Commissioners discussed the possibility of holding some spring and summer board meetings during the evening at alternate sites around the county. Leslie Richards mentioned the possibility of holding meetings at or near some of the county's historic sites. 

"We want to make the county government more open and accessible," Shapiro said. The Board of Commissioners held an evening meeting at the Old Mill House in 2008.

The county exercised a $57,097 option to extend a contract with Prestige Packaging of West Point, Upper Gwynedd to provide paper towels and bathroom tissue for all county facilities through March 31, 2013.

"It's one-ply," joked Castor.

Shapiro announced the launch of the county government's new Twitter feed. Shapiro said the "MontcoPA" Twitter account was controlled by a Jenkintown resident who agreed to give it to the county after speaking with him.

The county would look into making Castor's available on the county's Facebook page, Shapiro said.

Ad Hoc Committee on Public Safety Communications

Michael Beaty, Chief, Whitemarsh Township Police Department

David Camarda, Fire Marshal, Whitpain Township

Bruce L. Castor, Jr., Montgomery County Commissioner, Committee Chair

John DiNolfi, Assistant Director Special Services, Montgomery County Public Safety

Patrick Doyle, Deputy Chief, Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lower Merion

John Dwyer, Second Alarmers Rescue Squad

John Geib, Assistant Director for Operations, Montgomery County Public Safety

John Gross, Corporal, Springfield Police Department

William Kelly, Chief, Abington Township Police Department

Joseph Lawrence, Chief, Plymouth Township Police Department

Paul Leonard, Manager, Upper Dublin Township

Richard Lesniak, Director of Fire Services, Montgomery Township

Richard Lockhart, Battalion Chief, Norristown Fire Department Station 27

Richard Lohwasser, Assistant Director of Technical Services, Montgomery County Public Safety

Hayden Marriott, Chief, Skippack Fire Company Station 86

Thomas Medwid, Chief, Lower Salford Police Department

Dennis Orangers, Asst. Director Fire Rescue Communications, Montgomery County Public Safety Department

Ken Schauder, Chief, Bryn Athyn EMS

John Scholly, Chief, Lower Gwynedd Township Police Department

Bob Stanley, Inter County Investigations, Inc. (Chief, Hatfield Township Police, retired)

Tom Sullivan, Director, Montgomery County Public Safety

Michael Vest, 9-1-1 Program Manager, Montgomery County Public Safety

Clinton Wakefield, Washington Fire Company

George Wilmont, Chief, Flourtown Fire Company Station 6

Harry February 05, 2012 at 01:21 PM
"aging public safety radio system" What exactly is aging? The Pottsown Fire Dept was the first in the county to go on the then new system in 2005, when it first went digital and the county reconfigured the system to what it is now, east and west. I monitor the system both analog (EMS & most local PD's), and digital it appears to be working just fine. This is about people at the county getting new toys and Motorola pushing new products that aren't needed. I wonder if the $50 million is just for the system upgrade or does that include replacement of each and every radio currently on the county system. I would imagine its just the system. So we the taxpayer are on the hook for another $50 million, plus the additional costs to be absorbed by local responders, the cost is estimated be $7000 per radio! This is why I love politicians, even in the worst of economic times they can find away to piss away taxpayer money. While the Keim St. bridge continues to rot away, these people are more worried about a radio system that is working just fine. This is known as out of control government spending at its finest!
brian shannon February 05, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Philadelphia county cost did not even come close to $50ML, sounds like Castor needs to focus on COST for a functional system. Sullivan needs to do the same after years of bad decisions related to the present system. Hey Think they could jump on the PSP system or join or adopt Philly's system (works better than ours). Try and save the taxpayer the expense ...NEXTEL works just fine across all bands and it is much cheaper than Motorola's OLD JUNK technology.
David Powell (Editor) February 06, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Harry, according to the county's Department of Public Safety, the bulk of the county's radio communications infrastructure was installed around 1996.
Harry February 06, 2012 at 09:59 PM
David, That is correct, the original 800mhz trunked system was installed around 1996. However back around 2005, the county made improvements to the system, they switched from a Motorola Smartnet, to a Smartzone system, also at that time, they created a east and west zone system, along with adding the APCO 25 Digital technology which is currently being used by county fire, the county techs and some police depts. So although the original system was purchased in 1996, improvements and upgrades have been done since then. So for me the taxpayer, it would make more sense to upgrade what we already have than to go out a purchase an whole new system. Just to get you up to speed David, this whole interopibility thing we hear some much about. Did you know that even with Chester county, the state and Montgomery County, that they are three different systems? Chester county is on a Johnson Mulit-net sytsem, Montco is Motorola TypeII Smartzone, and the state is on the Opensky(MA-com)system, so although they are 800mhz, the only way the can talk is on what's known as simplex, very limited range, or via a conventional repeater. Do some more research and you'll see why people like me are so frustrated with this whole process of "replacing aging radio systems".

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