Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County News

The 5 Barrel Ahead: Ignore Potential $5-$10 Mil Savings On $18,000,000 Communications System

Late Breaking Development: Chairman Williams wants to hear the Harris proposal

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday night, The Columbia County 5 revisited the proposed $18,000,000 911 communications system upgrade after ignoring public comments and emails from Harris Communications.  Harris recently claimed it could save the County a sum approaching $10,000,000.

The 5 agreed to move forward with "the process to purchase property for the construction of new [radio] towers" for a Motorola system which the County has yet to be approved. None of the proposed expenditures were budgeted during last year's budget cycle.

Was anyone paying attention?

On May 2, 2013, Commissioner Ronald Williams, "mentioned the need to ensure there is sufficient money budgeted in the upcoming year for the 800 MHz (Megahertz) System." (County Commission minutes).

An examination by the Observer has been unable to find any line in the County Budget which earmarks anything toward the funding of the proposed multimillion dollar 911 communications upgrade.

In June 2013, the County received one response to a Request for Qualifications which was called Detention Facility Communications Tower Project. This unbudgeted $52,500 precursor for the $18,000,000 project was buried in the August Consent Agenda with this explanation, "Needs Assessment for the Communications Tower at the Detention Facility." No one mentioned anything more.

When your reporter asked why there was only one response to the proposal the explanation from the County Manager was there were very few people who did this type of work.

Did The 5 know the real scope of the project?

The RFQ was for more than just the Detention Facility Tower. The RFQ was clear, "The Consultant will advise the County on the requirements for ... potential future needs of the County including 800 MHz and/or cellular equipment." The 800 MHz "future needs part", not including the Detention Facility Tower is estimated to be about $18,000,000.

On January 16, 2014, The 5 finally admitted the project may cost approximately $18,000,000. Other than some broad generalizations, neither The 5, nor the County Staff knows how the project will be financed.

February 27, 2014: Harris Communications Speaks Up

On February 27, 2014, during a budget work shop, Harris Communications representative, Adam Black, stood up in the audience and told The 5, he (Harris), could save the County $2-$4 million. He was invited to the microphone and repeated his claim.

After the meeting, Mr. Black told Commissioner Stephen Bailey that Harris may be able to save the County up to $6,000,000.

Commissioner Bailey said he wasn't interested.

Harris predicts $5-10 million in savings

On March 5, 2014, Harris's Black emailed County Manager Dale Williams, Safety Manager David Kraus, Commissioner Scarlet Frisina, and Commissioner Rusty DePratter. Long time Commissioner Ronald Williams does not do email.

Last week, during a series of emails and phone communications, Mr. Black told the Observer he believed the savings to the County could be between $5-10 million if the County went with Harris.

Mr. Black wrote in part:  

As I mentioned at the workshop, Harris, the single largest provider of RF communications for the US Government, also operates the Florida State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) and has towers and coverage in Columbia County.  FHP, DOT, and State Game/Fish all have offices in Columbia County and all operate off the SLERS system... This solution would save an estimate of $5-6MM over what is being proposed by RCC/Motorola.  Additionally, it has no annual maintenance fees... [the Motorola proposal maintenance begins at $330K annually]. There is a simple $9 a month subscriber/user fee for operating on the SLERS system and no other maintenance costs to Columbia County for maintaining or managing any of the SLERS sites.

March 6th Meeting: Potential Harris savings ignored

During the March 6 County Commission meeting the 5 had knowledge that Harris had a multimillion dollar cost savings proposal. Part of this savings may not include some of the RCC proposed tower sites at about a total cost of $1,000,000 each. In spite of this, The 5 authorized the County staff to begin the process of assessing and purchasing the sites. Commissioner Bailey made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Nash. It is unknown from which bucket of taxpayer money this unbudgeted expenditure will come.

On Friday, March 7, Mr. Black, after consulting with Harris engineers, told the Observer that an upgraded Harris system may save the County closer to $10,000,000 and that he had emailed the County's Administrative Manager, Lisa Roberts, and asked to be put on the County agenda to present the Harris Proposal.


Chairman Williams Wants To Hear the Proposal

According to the County Charter, County Manager Dale Williams prepares the agenda. The next meeting of The 5 is March 20 at 5:30 pm.

The County notice requirement to be placed on the agenda, excluding extenuating circumstances, is notification one week in advance.

Harris has notified the County.

County Chairman Ronald Williams told the Observer this morning, "If a person wants to be on the agenda, so be it. I'm not going to deny anyone the opportunity to appear. If they [Harris] want to make a presentation, I'm going to give them the time."

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Chairman Ronald Williams;
Commissioners Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina
Note: Commissioner Williams and County Manager Williams were absent.


Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.