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December 4, 2013

County seeks new radios for first-responder teams

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — A new emergency communications network for Otsego County could become operational in less than a year, and plug coverage gaps that now bedevil police, firefighters and other first responders.

The county Board of Representatives is expected to act today on a proposed $2.8 million contract with Tait Communications of Christchurch, New Zealand. The firm, which competes with Motorola, designed and manufactured the system that county officials have been eyeballing.

Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, the chairman of the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, said Tait was the low bidder for the work.

"We think they have a very good product," he said. "The backup will be very good."

In addition to dead spots, fire departments and police agencies are coping with interference and congestion problems. They now rely on a radio system utilizing VHF low-band frequencies. The new system would incorporate both UHF and VHF frequencies.

Powers said that, at times, a sheriff's deputy on patrol in a southern section of the county now has no way to directly communicate with a deputy in the northern end of the county.

The county's current emergency radio system only covers a little more than half of Otsego County. The system being offered by Tait would kick the coverage up to greater than 90 percent of the county's terrain, officials said.

County Treasurer Dan Crowell said the county is expected to study a number of ways to finance the purchase of the equipment, including setting up a payment plan offered by Tait and checking with local banks.

He said the county will be able to afford the multi-year payments on the communications network as it expects to take in cash from the sale of the assets of the trash authority known as MOSA — the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Waste Authority, which is facing dissolution in the coming year. The effort to sell the Otsego Manor nursing home in the coming year will also greatly help the county's balance sheets, he said.

Powers said the county was initially presented with systems from vendors that were much costlier than the one being offered by Tait. One network dangled before the county, he noted, would have cost $12 million.

By opting for an affordable no-frills communications system, and one that includes a minimum of computer equipment, Powers said the county will also save on maintenance costs.

"It won't be super-elaborate," he said. "But it will give us the coverage that we need."

The county has been replacing its communication towers in recent years, and two new towers, one in Pittsfield and another in Schuyler Lake, are expected to join the network by 2015.

Executives from the New Zealand company have traveled to Cooperstown to promote their electronic equipment and explain the various options that the county could acquire to officials such as Powers and Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr.

"Jim Powers and Rich Devlin have added a lot of needed momentum to this project," Crowell said. "We've made great strides and it's a credit to those two people in particular."