This article has been corrected to clarify that the board did not discuss the proposed public radio system in executive session, and that no action was taken on a potential reappointment.

WINCHESTER — The radio system used by Frederick County's law enforcement and emergency services personnel is in critical condition.

"We've been putting Band-Aids on this for a while and that's not the fix. We need surgery," said Mike Milas, a project consultant with Mission Critical Partners of Pennsylvania.

Milas' firm was contracted by Frederick County to assess its public safety radio system and recommend improvements. Following a months-long study, he told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday the 20-year-old system has become overburdened by users and cannot provide full coverage throughout the entire county.

Some of Frederick's radio equipment has already exceeded its expected lifespan, Milas said, and the VHF-based system has just one transmission tower on North Mountain to serve the entire county.

"That's not good," he said as he showed supervisors a coverage map that revealed large swaths of the county that have low or limited radio service.

Milas listed 18 specific occurrences last year where the system's shortcomings posed potential dangers for citizens and public safety personnel, including:

  • An April 25 incident on Darlington Drive where a suspect was threatening to shoot law enforcement officers, but deputies on the scene were unable to communicate with each other.
  • A May 10 incident on Woodys Place where dispatch was unable to hear a deputy while he was responding to a domestic altercation.
  • An Aug. 20 incident on Lenoir Drive where a deputy responding to a business alarm could not reach dispatch.
  • An Oct. 23 incident on Forest Lake Drive where a deputy assisting fire and rescue was unable to transmit that the scene was secure.

Milas told supervisors the only real solution to the problems is a new radio system.

"It can't be fixed; it really needs to be replaced," he said.

Milas said the best, most cost-efficient solution is a P25 Phase II six-channel simulcast radio system using 700 MHz frequencies and eight transmission sites throughout the county. The new system would fill in coverage gaps, provide numerous transmission towers should one stop functioning, and allow more users to securely communicate using base, mobile and portable radios.

The estimated cost for such a system is $15 million, and there are add-ons that could increase the price to $20 million.

"I can almost guarantee you this system will cost less than $20 million," Milas told the supervisors, explaining that a competitive bidding process would encourage potential equipment providers to keep prices at a minimum.

Once a system is installed, he said, ongoing maintenance and site leases would cost an estimated $1.8 million a year.

If the county proceeds with the purchase of a new public safety radio system, Milas said, the procurement and installation process could take up to three years.

In other business at Wednesday's meeting and work session, the Board of Supervisors:

  • Voted 4-1 to forgive Frederick Water's $657,083.23 debt obligation to the county so the utility will have enough money to install LED lighting at replacement ball fields being constructed in Clearbrook Park. Back Creek District Supervisor Gary Lofton opposed the measure.
  • Met in executive session to discuss property acquisition. Afterward, the board voted 4-1 to allocate $300,000 in county funds for the potential purchase of an unidentified property. No additional details were given, and Stonewall District Supervisor Judith McCann-Slaughter opposed the measure.
  • Unanimously agreed to implement new formulas to determine the amounts of cash proffers that could be requested from developers of county properties.
  • Voted unanimously to table until July 10 a proposal to adjust the Frederick County/Warren County boundary line to address seven parcels in Frederick's Opequon District that were mistakenly recorded as being in Warren County.
  • Unanimously approved a permit allowing Tyler Wakeman to hold an outdoor event, the Peak Leaf Music and Brewers Festival, on Oct. 19 at the corner of Valley Pike (U.S. 11) and Cougill Road (Va. 634) near Middletown.
  • Voted unanimously to approve a 10-year, non-exclusive cable television franchise with Comcast.
  • Voted unanimously to approve amendments to the county's noise and animal ordinances to clarify language and bring them in line with recent changes to State Code.
  • Voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the disposition of any county interest in Lot 19 at Shawneeland.

Attending Wednesday’s Frederick County Board of Supervisors meeting and work session in the County Administration Building were Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. and supervisors Gary Lofton, Blaine Dunn, Judith McCann-Slaughter and Bob Wells. Supervisors J. Douglas McCarthy and Shannon Trout were absent.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(3) comments

Steve Cunningham

First responder communications were found to be in poor condition after 9/11. There should be federal grants to assist in upgrading first responder communication systems to better assist our first responders, especially considering the federal presence in Frederick County ( USACE, FEMA and FBI).

bromleyh

I am all for first responders to have the latest and greatest equipment, since the first order for a government is to protect its citizens. But the costs need to be transparent to make sure taxpayers are not taken advantage of.

Doug

All this closed an executive session stuff is due to come to an end. It is not the government's job, at any level, to conduct back door deals and keep activities from the eye of the very public that elects these officials. Term limits at every level and an outright prohibition of these closed door sessions are needed. How can our board be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of the citizenry, when the image is portrayed that the citizenry can't be trusted to know the details of decisions being made. It's gone too far.

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