Stand-alone proposal is over $10 million, but shared network could save taxpayers on project
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A transition from the current analog radios in the hands of Lee County’s emergency responders, to a digital platform could cost taxpayers upwards of $10 million.
Keokuk Police Chief Dave Hinton told Lee County Supervisors Tuesday that only one response to a request for proposals, or RFP, was received by a committee trying to usher in the upgrade.
“Bids were due last Friday and we only received one bid and that was from Motorola,” Hinton said.
“We asked for two proposals, a stand alone where we would own it all and be responsible for maintenance, upgrades, and software and that came in at $10.4 million.”
Hinton said the RFP also asked for a shared network that would allow the county to leverage some assets the state already has in place with its Iowa State Interoperable Communication System, or ISICS. The price tag on that proposal was $7.4 million, which is closer to figures being kicked around by committee members at meetings earlier this year held around the county.
The committee has already engaged Federal Engineering as a consultant on the project. That group will conduct an audit of Motorola’s proposals including a technical examination to determine compliance with the RFPs. The consultants would also do a 10-year cost analysis.
The county, at some point, will have to choose which program they would like to pursue. But initially they would need to sign an Letter of Intent with Motorola to trigger the process. When that is signed the county could also negotiate some of the pricing in the proposals.
Funding for the project would come through the county’s ability to levy a debt service tax.
“I have been looking at a county wide debt service levy to pay for it. I’ve checked around and other counties are going the same way,” said county Budget Director Cindy Renstrom.
“There is room maybe for 911 to pay for some, but that’s a discussion for later.”
Hinton said the money may seem as sticker shock, but it’s something that’s critical for all emergency responders in the county.
“Even though this is a big ask, the state is switching over, other counties, communities, cities, and other states are all switching over,” Hinton said.
“So now we are having a difficult time communicating with other state agencies and agencies outside of the state because they have already made the transition,” Hinton said.
Difficulties surfaced in the past few weeks in county searches near the Des Moines River where sheriff’s deputies had trouble communicating with each other and Missouri agencies. Last week at a fire at the Great River Regional Waste Authority landfill, Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren had trouble relaying information from the top of the landfill pile, to trucks stationed on the road below.
Herren said he told firefighters at the scene that he might as well have thrown the radios into the fire for all the good they were doing.
The problems arose when the Federal Communication Commission began mandated public safety licensees narrowband radio signals in 2007 by migrating from 25kHz radio systems to 12.5kHz., which created as shorter band width for the signal to be carried, and a weaker signal.
Now Hinton said service in the county is poor with in-building service in the county at an average of 35%, and some buildings at 0% reception.
The proposals require a 95% coverage area for Lee County as a whole. Currently the system covers just over 70% of the county, according to the committee.
“That’s a big safety issue when our law enforcement and firefighters can’t communicate with each other,” said Supervisor Matt Pflug.
Lee County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Steve Cirinna told Supervisors during Tuesday’s call that he was in the basement of Fort Madison City Hall with a digital radio and had clarity of signal.