Schuylkill County Commissioners agreed to spend more than $2.8 million more on the county 9-1-1 system on Wednesday. However, the agreement wasn’t unanimous.
The rare split vote came after a little debate and some public backlash over the proposed spending. Commissioner Gary Hess voted against spending this much money — which will come from the Schuylkill County CARES Act allocation — because he believes local small businesses, municipalities, and non-profit organizations should have more of a crack at that cash.
About a month ago, the Commissioners already agreed to purchase 6 mobile dispatch units for the Schuylkill 9-1-1 center in the event the Pottsville headquarters is inaccessible due to complications with the China virus. On Aug. 12, the County said it would spend $2.197 million for those units and that money for that equipment would come from the CARES Act money.
According to research conducted by The Canary, Schuylkill County Commissioners have now agreed to spend approximately $5,097,911 on the County 9-1-1 system using CARES Act money. That represents about 40% of the County’s $12.7 million allocation of CARES Act funds.
Schuylkill County Spending $2.8M More on 9-1-1 Center Using CARES Act Money
Commissioners Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage went back to that well again on Wednesday to come up with the money for this latest 9-1-1 project that Commissioners didn’t seem to have a full grasp of despite voting for it.
On the meeting Agenda this week, it reads that the $2,822,395.24 would go to Nokia of America Corp. “for 9-1-1 connectivity.” That’s it.
The County 9-1-1 director Scott Krater was on hand for Wednesday’s Commissioners meeting to further explain just what exactly costs this much money and what it’d do. But judging from their reactions, the Commissioners voting for this project didn’t seem to grasp it. And honestly, neither did we.
Krater did his best, we assume, to put it into lay terms. Essentially, what the county agreed to purchase was a backup connection service in the event its regular 9-1-1 service is disabled for any reason.
“This is the countywide critical network infrastructure to support our 9-1-1 services,” Krater said. “This will be the back haul going to 9 tower sites and also to our remote dispatch locations should we ever have a catastrophic event. This is the back haul for all of that equipment.”
He added that the last time this equipment was updated was in 1997.
Without Wednesday’s purchase and in the event of said catastrophic event, Krater said the County 9-1-1 system would have to rely on commercial mobile connections.
“This is the vehicle we need to get us back in contact with our servers,” he added.
Halcovage asked if this purchase could improve broadband connectivity in certain parts of the county “down the line” and it seemed that Krater and a Nokia representative present at Wednesday’s meeting somewhat confirmed this but didn’t offer any firm explanation on how that’d work.
Hess, however, wasn’t buying it. Despite saying that public safety is an issue very important to him, he believes the CARES Act money could be better spent, specifically on businesses affected by the pandemic response from the state.
“The sole purpose was to hopefully recoup (losses) incurred during this pandemic,” Hess said.
He also noted that during his time as a Commissioner, he’s approved spending on 9-1-1 equipment that’s never been used.
“I believe this is a great idea but when we first came in, we upgraded the equipment to a large tune, to a bond that we had to get,” he said. “We also purchased some other things in there that we still aren’t utilizing, which is 8 years later.”
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