Request For More Radio System Funding Irks Officials

SNOW HILL – A nearly $1.1 million proposed increase in the Worcester County Emergency Services’ budget resulted in continued criticism of the county’s new radio system.

During a budget work session Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners expressed concern regarding a $1,085,573 (49%) proposed increase in the emergency services budget. The bulk of the increase relates to the P25 radio system the county began using last year.

“I don’t understand why we spent $4.8 million and we have to spend another almost $1 million on a system that’s not even a year-and-half old,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

In a lengthy presentation Tuesday, Emergency Services Director Billy Birch outlined for the commissioners his department’s $3,391,679 budget request.

“The items I will be presenting to you this afternoon are all needs,” Birch said. “I regret to inform you none of these items are a want. We didn’t have time to be putting those in our budget.”

He said the budget included a handful of big ticket items. Bertino pointed out that $902,000 of Birch’s requested increase related to the P25 radio system. The system, which the commissioners hired Harris Corporation to put in place in 2015, cost close to $5 million but experienced various problems as it was implemented last year. The county eventually hired a consultant to address the ongoing issues.

Birch said he was seeking funding for a project manager to help with the system as well as funding for a $118,000 critical alignment tool. He said the tool would help the county maintain and reprogram the 1,800 radios it now had. Birch also requested $591,000 for radio equipment purchases. He said the bulk of that, $328,000 would allow for the upgrade of radio systems in all of the county’s schools and buses.

Bertino said the commissioners had never been advised there’d be additional costs associated with the new system.

“There was no discussion we’d have to hire another person and we’d have to reprogram these radios twice a year,” he said. “And there was certainly no discussion about additional radios for the board of education.”

When commissioners asked why the tool was needed if the county paid for an annual maintenance contract, staff explained the county had an extended warranty, not a service contract.

“This radio system’s just the gift that keeps on giving,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

Bertino expressed frustration but acknowledged that Birch didn’t work for the county when officials decided to purchase the new system.

“I’ve got to tell you I’m more than irritated by the fact I feel we’re rebuying or rebuying or reallocating funds for stuff I thought we’d already covered,” he said.

Birch stressed that the funding he was asking for would ensure the county got the most out of the new radio system.

“What I’m asking for is two management tools to optimize what you paid for,” he said.

Other increases in Birch’s proposed budget related to more employee training, hiring some part-time dispatchers and an increase in overtime costs.

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.