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Newcom pressing township to join its channel

| Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003

Ross officials are balking at a request to dish out $50,000 to $60,000 for new radio equipment sought by Newcom Emergency Communications.

Ross is the only one of the emergency dispatch system's 17 member communities that is not on the Newcom UHF channel. Instead, Ross is on a VHF channel that is used by the township's volunteer fire departments and public works department, as well as the police.

Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco, the township's representative to Newcom, said the cost for the conversion is too high.

He said Newcom's channels are crowded.

"They're overloaded," he said. "The problem we have is that we have a high volume of traffic, more than any other community in Newcom."

Ross officials complain that switching would lead to more traffic on the channel carrying Ross police calls.

"For me, it's just a matter of more traffic, more activity on whatever channel we would be on," police Chief Greg Tenos said. "We have about 21,000 calls a year. During the evening shift, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., I feel there's enough traffic on our channel. I think Newcom needs to reduce traffic on their other channel.

"They're trying to sell this under the title of zoned dispatch. It has little to do with zoned dispatch and is really more shared frequencies. All it will do for us will increase the traffic on our channels."

Zoned dispatch is using multiple frequencies to dispatch multiple departments.

In 2001, Newcom handled 75,361 calls for all police departments other than Ross.

If Ross came into the UHF fold and Newcom split the channel, radio traffic would be reduced to an estimated 48,236 calls per channel.

When installation of the $5.3 million UHF system was completed in 1999, officials said public safety agencies serving the 150,000 residents of Newcom's communities could communicate with each other for the first time over a shared system infrastructure.

Brian Melby, Newcom's executive director said a special meeting between Newcom and Ross officials is scheduled for the end of the month.

"What we're trying to do is take the two primary UHF channels and divide them so that we are dispatching both of them," he said. "We'd be using two instead of one."

Melby said while Tenos is correct in stating that Ross's channel in the end would experience more traffic, call traffic on the channel serving the other 16 communities would be decreased by a similar amount.

"He's leaving his own channel and coming to a channel that he would have to share with other police departments," Melby said. "He will experience an increase. All of the other police departments will experience a decrease in traffic."

Tenos said the $60,000 cost to upgrade the township police equipment is just the beginning.

"That only includes the police," he said. "That does not include the fire departments or the fire police. If you include the fire departments, it's possibly closer to $200,000."

All of the member communities pay for the cost of the dispatchers. Ross's contribution to the consortium for 2003 is $268,000, Tenos said.

Ross Manager Tom Lavorini said it was understood when Ross entered into the consortium years ago that Ross could keep its current radio channel.

"When we joined the system, it was agreed that we could stay on our VHF (channel)," Lavorini said. "We acknowledged that and understood that we would be paying for part of the capital upgrade for the UHF platform that we are not using. We understood going in that that would be the case."

Lavorini said that while he does not know of any pre-existing agreements that Ross would switch to UHF, he assumed that police officials would want to make the move at some point.

"I thought, over time, due to the better radio reception and other issues, that police would want to make the migration to UHF," he said.

Newcom communities

Communities served by Newcom emergency dispatch are Aspinwall, Blawnox, Bradford Woods, Etna, Fox Chapel, Hampton, Indiana Township, Marshall, Millvale, O'Hara, Pine, Reserve, Richland, Ross, Shaler, Sharpsburg and West Deer.

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