Commissioners Question Ongoing Radio System Problems

Commissioners Question Ongoing Radio System Problems
The County Commissioners are pictured with Emergency Services Director Fred Webster this week. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Officials voiced concerns with ongoing issues related to the installation of the county’s new emergency radio system as they considered a consulting proposal this week.

After reconvening following an abrupt closed session meeting Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners tabled a decision on hiring a consultant to analyze the interference problems currently plaguing the county’s public safety radio system. They did, however, question the delays associated with the project, which is being handled by Harris Corporation and began in 2015.

“This has really become a serious problem,” Commissioner Ted Elder said. “It needs to be resolved.”

Director of Emergency Services Fred Webster presented the commissioners with a $77,265 proposal from an engineering consultant that he said could provide a thorough evaluation of the county’s radio system and determine why the system was experiencing interference. Webster, who recently announced that he’d be retiring at the end of the year, said the county needed outside advice.

“We’ve exhausted everything internally we know how to do,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic pointed out that the county was still waiting on a final tower site, as the Mystic Harbour site was not yet connected.

“Wouldn’t we be jumping the gun to hire a consultant before the system is complete?” Mitrecic said.

Webster said that the additional tower site would not eliminate the noise problems the system was currently experiencing.

Commissioner Jim Bunting asked whether the problem was beyond the scope of Harris Corporation’s work.

“They are still trying to work with the county,” Webster said.

Bunting also questioned the reason for the delay in the hook-up of the Mystic Harbour site. Webster explained that the county was still waiting on a piece of equipment that had been ordered from Eastern Communications at the recommendation of Harris Corporation.

Elder suggested ordering the equipment should have been Harris Corporation’s responsibility. Webster said the company had told the county to order the equipment from its dealer, Eastern Communications, to save money.

Commissioners went on to ask why the equipment hadn’t been ordered until June, when it was known that it would be needed early on.

Webster said his department hadn’t waited to order the equipment, but that Eastern Communications had. He said he’d recommended buying the piece from Eastern Communications in an effort to save money.

Commissioner Chip Bertino said there were other concerns with the radio system, such as whether it was compatible with Ocean City’s system.

“I’d be remiss in giving an opinion on that,” Webster said.

When asked why James Hamilton, the county’s deputy director of emergency services, wasn’t present Tuesday, Webster said he was at a meeting in Cambridge.

Mitrecic said that the proposed consulting contract didn’t guarantee a fix to the interference problem would be found. When asked if Harris Corporation would be responsible for fixing the problem if the cause of it was identified, Webster said that would depend on what the cause was.

“Harris has made it blatantly clear they want to see this system succeed as much as we do,” Webster said.

Mitrecic suggested that in that case Harris Corporation should hire the consultant.

Webster said his department wanted to make sure the company was doing what the county needed it to.

“This is a check up on Harris?” Mitrecic asked.

Webster confirmed that it was.

“We tried to do as much of it in-house as we possibly could,” he said.

Mitrecic made a motion to table the hiring of a consultant until the radio system was complete. He also recommended Webster ask the consultant to narrow the scope of the proposal so that the review addressed just the interference issue.

“If we are in fact going to have to pay for this, I want it to impact the taxpayers of Worcester County the least amount,” he said. “If we can take that $77,000 and cut it down somewhat…that’s what we should do.”

Commissioner Bud Church stressed the importance of getting the system up and running.

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “The system is marginally working. We have people depending on this system that’s not working property.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve Mitrecic’s motion to table the consulting decision and narrow the scope of the contract.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.