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Westmoreland commissioners OK $10M upgrade of 911 system

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, June 4, 2015, 11:09 p.m.

Westmoreland County commissioners Thursday approved a more than $10 million upgrade of the 911 emergency dispatch system that officials said will improve technology and ensure public safety for the next decade.

The upgrade will involve installation of upgraded equipment on each of the 26 radio towers that service the county's 911 system.

“We need to have more advanced technology. The system now is too old and not efficiently running the (computer) programs. We essentially need a new computer,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

Commissioners approved a contract that will pay Motorola Solutions of Chicago nearly $1.9 million in each of the next four years to install the equipment on the radio towers.

A $2.2 million contract with Motorola calls for the company to maintain the towers through 2025. Commissioners approved a $291,000 deal for the company to oversee maintenance of the radio system used by Westmoreland and five other counties for the next decade.

“This will allow us to add capacity. Because of increased demand for communications, we want the ability to add user radios,” said Public Safety Director Roland “Bud” Mertz. “The equipment in the towers is at the end of its life and can no longer be serviced.”

Commissioners planned for the 911 upgrades to be made this year, but funding for the project was pulled from the budget when it was approved in December.

There is no defined plan to pay for the upgrades, commissioners said.

“The plan to pay for it is apparently to punt it to the next board (of commissioners), said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

Anderson and Commissioner Tyler Courtney said that because no payment for the project is due until 2016, the current budget didn't need to reflect the expense.

“It's a shame Commissioner Kopas is choosing to make this a political football. This is about public safety,” Courtney said.

Anderson suggested the county could borrow money for the project early next year. No grants are available to pay for the upgrades, he said.

“The bottom line is we're moving forward with these upgrades and make this the best we can,” Anderson said.

The county last upgraded its 911 system in 2003 as part of a $12 million project that converted the dispatch network to 800 megahertz frequency channels.

Mertz said the upgrades will enhance the network and will take four to six months to install. The upgrades are expected to be completely online by the start of 2016, he said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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