LIVE OAK — Calling the price “astronomical” and “outrageous,” Suwannee County officials wanted additional time in considering an upgrade to a radio system for its first responders.
In a special meeting called for June 26, the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners decided it wasn’t ready to make the call on spending $2 million to replace its current radio system by joining the state’s system. The board had earlier requested more time at its regular June 18 meeting to consider the radio system change, one in which a decision needed to be made before the end of June in order to lock in the current price.
But the extra week wasn’t long enough for the commissioners to get their “head wrapped around the cost” as Len Stapleton described it, particularly the $5,373 for a portable unit or a “mobile walkie talkie.” Josh Franklin, the salesman with Williams Communications, said while it is a lot of money for a radio, he also described it as competitive in the market for radio systems, particularly considering the technology in the radio units and that their Harris radios were the only ones that currently work on the state’s proprietary system.
Don Hale called the cost “astronomical” while County Administrator Randy Harris said it was “outrageous.”
“I think it’s a horrible price on this equipment,” Harris said about what called the board’s “choking point.” “There’s zero justification for a number like that on a radio, in my mind. I’m saying what all these commissioners want to say I’m just less diplomatic than they are.”
Harris, though, later admitted that proprietary was the key term in the high cost.
Sheriff Sam St. John and James Sommers, the county’s public safety director, though, said the cost was roughly the same in the numerous systems they looked at. In other systems, including discussions with Kenwood and Motorola, the bulk of the cost was in upgrading the county’s existing four towers with possibly adding in more towers to cover dead spots within the county.
St. John said even with those upgrades, there was no guarantee that the system would work and the entire county be covered until it was complete.
The state system proposed, though, had been tested and did work.
“I had sticker shock,” St. John said about the cost as well. “It’s a lot of money. But the other alternative is a lot of money too and a lot of uncertainty.”
Franklin did tell the board after additional discussions about the high cost of the proposed dual-band radios, that he had cheaper models as well. Those other radios, though, were single band and would not be able to be used to communicate with all the surrounding counties and the Suwannee County School System as well. Those other radios ranged from $3,000 to the proposed model of nearly $5,400.
Chairman Ricky Gamble said he personally was only concerned about communicating with the schools in case of an emergency, asking St. John and Sommers if the number of dual-band units needed could be reduced.
“I’m not worried abut those other counties,” he said, adding those that already upgraded to the state’s system didn’t get dual-band systems. “They didn’t worry about us.”
With the board deciding to hold a workshop with Williams Communications to further discuss the system, Gamble asked Sommers and St. John to provide commissioners with details from their discussions with other companies so that they could see some of the other costs as a comparison.