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Schuylkill Commissioners Want to Spend Nearly $4 Million More on 9-1-1 Upgrades Using COVID Aid

They say it’ll come from Rescue Plan funds but they say a lot of things that aren’t true.

Schuylkill County Commissioners are pretending to consider spending nearly $4 million more on upgrades to the 9-1-1 emergency system. And they want to use some of the money from the American Rescue Plan funds they’ve gotten over the last 2 years to do it.

On Wednesday, the Commissioners heard from Scott Krater, the County’s 9-1-1 Communications director on several proposed major purchases. These purchases would go to upgrading the 9-1-1 network in the western part of Schuylkill County, specifically in the Hegins area.

In total, the bill for what Krater’s asking Commissioners to buy is $3,725,005.64. And, after initially not mentioning where this money would come from, the board tried to slip it by that they’d be using some of the $27 million in American Rescue Plan funds they’ve been frittering away over the last year or so.

We say they’re pretending to consider the proposal as if the decision hasn’t already been made. All 3 of the Commissioners seemed to be on board with the idea of this spending. They even tried to dangle their favorite carrot in front of the public on Wednesday to allay any concerns. This investment, they say, could help “expand broadband” internet to the areas allegedly covered by the technology they’re buying for 9-1-1.

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Nearly $4 Million More for 9-1-1 Upgrades Coming from COVID Relief Money

This would only be the most recent multi-million upgrade to the County’s 9-1-1 system in the last couple years. And it wouldn’t be the first time the County Commissioners have said they’ll use COVID relief money to pay for it.

Whether that holds true in the end remains to be seen.

Back in 2020, the Commissioners made a major investment into the 9-1-1 system, which was called the “narrowband” project. The total bill for that was more than $6 million.

Initially, the Commissioners said they’d be using much of the CARES Act relief money they got from the federal government to pay for it. But over the course of 2020 and into 2021, the County moved a lot of numbers around and ended up covering more than half that project’s cost with CARES funds. The other portion was paid for with a bond the Commissioners floated specifically to pay for the 9-1-1 upgrades then.

And that was after the Commissioners publicly voted to float a bond to cover the entire cost of that 9-1-1 project.

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So, while the Commissioners now say that they’ll use American Rescue Plan funds to pay for this new 9-1-1 upgrade project, there’s little chance they even know how it’ll get paid for at this point in the year. And only a fool would bet on them sticking to their word on it.

The only thing that seems certain is that this spending will get approved when Commissioners meet again on July 13.

What does $4 million get you in 9-1-1 equipment these days?

Not that the layperson has any idea what it is that we’re paying for in this project, Krater did try to explain it to the Commissioners and the public. None of the Commissioners even blinked at the price tags.

In total, they’re considering these separate purchases:

  • Approval with Motorola Solutions Inc. for RF remote simulcast sub-site to the existing County Astro 25 2019.2 system. Cost: $889,351.
  • Approval with Tower Services Unlimited, Harrisburg, to provide civil site work, 250-foot tower, and a pre-fabricated concrete shelter and emergency generator. Cost: $1,735,980.
  • Approval with Nokia of America for 9-1-1 western Schuylkill microwave ring closure connectivity. Cost $1,099,674.64.

Krater says 2 of those spending proposals – with Motorola and Tower Services – are to construct a tower in the Hegins area. Krater says the construction of this tower would address several years of complaints from that area about connectivity issues in emergency communications.

The $1.7 million would be spent on the actual construction phase of the project.

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More than $1 million of what the Commissioners are considering would be spent on upgrading T1 communication with microwave technology. Krater says the upgrades proposed would close a “microwave ring” and that would allow the County to be “in control” and not “at the mercy of Verizon” when a circuit fails.

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