The Montgomery County Commissioners took a large step towards a multi-million dollar overhaul of the county’s outdated emergency dispatch radio system on Wednesday, as they oversaw the initial meeting of an ad hoc committee tasked with planning the upgrade.
“[The replacement] will be a difficult task, particularly in light of our economic climate,” said County Commissioner and chair of the newly-created Emergency Dispatch Radio Committee Bruce Castor, in a brief press event before the meeting. And “it may involve the largest public borrowing in Montgomery County history.”
But given the county’s crumbling emergency communications infrastructure, the commissioners maintain the large expenditure is a necessary one. A substantial portion of the Department of Public Safety’s equipment, including all police radios, is now effectively obsolete as its replacement parts and services are no longer offered by the manufacturers. Lower Salford Township Chief of Police, and EDRC subcommittee chair, Thomas Medwid said some municipalities have resorted to buying spare parts on Ebay.
“The highest priority of government is pubic safety,” Castor said. “But…it is also our duty to ensure that all options and decisions are properly reviewed and vetted before public funds are expended.”
To that end, the commissioners have appointed 32 municipal officials and emergency services members to the ad hoc committee that will advise the body on how to proceed.
The ERDC is comprised of four subcommittees: a Vendor Selection subcommittee that will recommend an RFP firm to serve as a consultant on the project; a Technical subcommittee that will gauge the needs of the individual public safety agencies and identify the proper equipment to fill those needs; an Operations and Policy subcommittee whose charge is to review how the larger EMS system functions and recommend ways to improve it; and a Municipal Liaison and Finance subcommittee that will keep all municipal governing bodies abreast of the ERDC’s progress.
Castor said he will establish a deadline in the next couple weeks for a formal recommendation from the committee.
He said he is ruling out no possible funding mechanism—including asking the county’s component municipalities to pick up part of the tab—but did say that, for legal reasons, it is unlikely the county will purchase equipment and rent it out at the local level. He provided no estimate of the projects total cost.
In assessing all the moving parts, Commissioner Josh Shapiro was circumspect.
“[We’re going to] figure out a technology that works and figure out a way to finance it,” he said.