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Schuylkill County Agrees to Spend $855K More on 9-1-1 Project

schuylkill county 911 center name

Schuylkill County Commissioners voted Wednesday to spend another $855,045 on a project to upgrade its 9-1-1 capabilities.

And the money for it will come from Schuylkill County’s dwindling CARES Act fund balance.

Here’s what the Commissioners agreed to do, straight from their work session meeting agenda on Oct. 7:

“Enter into an agreement with Tower Services Unlimited of Harrisburg to provide civil site work and two direct embedment monopoles and a thermobond communications shelter along with an emergency generator … This is the civil work necessary to provide interconnection between the alternate dispatch centers at the Porter Township and Fire School locations (the two direct embedment monopoles). Each of these locations will be connected by microwave to the County 9-1-1 Center enabling public safety grade operation of these alternate locations. This will allow for secure and resilient connectivity from these back-up centers to the primary 9-1-1 Center. This project includes a communications shelter that will be used to house new Nokia equipment. All engineering and interconnection between the news and existing networks is included.”

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Confused? So were the Commissioners. But they agreed to it anyway without asking many questions.

In fact, the only one to ask any questions about it during Wednesday’s work session meeting in Pottsville was Commissioner Gary Hess. He didn’t like what he heard and only had more questions..

And the idea of using the County’s CARES Act funding to pay for this $6 million (and counting) project is really getting under his skin.

Commissioner Hess voted against this spending on Wednesday, going against his two colleagues, Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage. He believes this project is a poor use of Schuylkill County’s $12.7 million CARES Act allocation.

“I’m still in favor of broadband. I’m not against it. I believe in continuity and 5G is something we need to move to and it’s very important,” Hess said before voting against this latest request from Schuylkill 9-1-1 on Wednesday. “This extra right now is where the money was to be given to give lifelines to the municipalities out there, the small businesses and also to non-profits.”

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Hess then said he’s not even aware of how much of that $12.7 million Schuylkill County has spent so far.

“I still don’t know how much has been spent out of the CARES Act. Right now, this project is looking to be to $6 million,” Hess said.

Why Does Schuylkill County Keep Spending Money on its 9-1-1 System?

The $855,045 spent during Wednesday’s work session meeting is only the latest in a string of expenses seemingly related to one project.

What’s odd is that the project, as a whole, was never spelled out from the beginning. It’s been death of the county’s CARES Act money by a thousand – make that several million – cuts.

And that’s got Hess concerned, too.

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“What I’m really puzzled on is why we’re piecemealing this at each meeting, rather than putting it into a whole spectrum of a package that we know what we’re getting and actually buying,” Hess wondered aloud on Wednesday. “It seems like every two weeks or every week we’re throwing another component on there and God knows how much more it’s going to cost. This is where I’m at with this.”

That’s true. Spending on this mysterious and confusing 9-1-1 project started back in mid-August. And it’s continued now into October.

Here’s a look at the spending on the Schuylkill County 9-1-1 system in the last few months. Apparently, all these expenses are part of one project but it was never publicly disclosed that there’d be anything more than an initial expense:

  • $2.197 million: Back on Aug. 12, the Commissioners all agreed to buy mobile dispatch consoles to be used in the event that COVID or some other emergency shuts down Schuylkill County’s 9-1-1 communications center.
  • $60,516: Commissioners again agreed to buy 6 Nomad Remote CAD Positions to pair with those consoles purchased the week prior.
  • $2.8 million: On Sept. 16, the Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve this massive expense for what was listed as “9-1-1 connectivity” on their meeting agenda.

And then, on Wednesday, Commissioners voted to spend another $855,045 on more equipment somehow related to this same project. County 9-1-1 Director Scott Krater told Commissioners that all the other equipment purchased for this project wouldn’t work without Wednesday’s purchase. He did not say whether or not there would be future requests also related to this project.

Barring any other related expenses we may have missed, that equals a whopping $5,912,561 on a project very few seem to have a grasp on. In fact, at first, we didn’t even know there was a project.


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