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Radio system controversy may take pact off agenda

The selection of Harris Corp. to construct Niagara County's new emergency radio system may be withdrawn from Tuesday's County Legislature agenda after a competing company sent a blistering letter to county officials, protesting the bidding process.

Motorola, which had long been considered the front-runner, said in its letter, dated Thursday, that the county had no organized process for awarding the federally mandated project, the county's most expensive public works contract in 20 years.

Motorola also accused the county of supplying its proprietary information to Harris to enable the Rochester company to beat Motorola's bid by about $3 million.

In the letter, Motorola Solutions Vice President David R. White Jr. wrote that Motorola could build a better system than Harris, with the same number of towers and brand-new radios for 1,850 firefighters, police officers and other users, for $11.1 million.

By reusing the existing Motorola radios in the county, the company's price falls to $9.75 million.

That beats the $13.4 million Harris bid that two Legislature committees unanimously approved Tuesday. Counting the cost of erecting eight new towers and reusing three existing ones, Harris' estimated total cost was $15 million.

However, tower construction is to be separately bid, no matter whose radios are used.

"It seems like the spirit of competition is marching forward," said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, chairman of the Community Safety and Security Committee.

In his letter, White contended that Harris is offering a lower quality of service by splitting the county's radio network into eastern and western cells, while Motorola offers a single cell for the whole county.

He also asserted that his competitor's base stations use older technology and could cost $2.5 million to replace.

But White was especially irked that Harris dropped its notion to lease space on existing private towers and, at the last minute, adopted Motorola's long-standing plan to construct eight new ones. "This item alone is reason for a protest," he wrote.

He contended that the county must have leaked that to Harris, but the Motorola tower construction plan was reported in The Buffalo News as far back as Dec. 11.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz did not return calls seeking comment Friday, but top legislators said the award to Harris must be withdrawn from Tuesday's agenda unless the issue is settled.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said he had received calls of concern from members of all political parties. "If we can't get all the principals together, we can pull it off the agenda," Ross said. "I've been told many members of our fire community have genuine concerns. My recommendation is to pull it off the agenda until we can get the questions answered."

"This is a big project," said Administration Committee Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport. "A lot of the legislators have questions about what Motorola wrote."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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