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Companies compete in effort to build radio system

Harris Corp., the Rochester company that seemingly won a bid for Niagara County's new emergency radio system, fired back last week at a rival company that protested the bid process.

However, it appeared that volunteer firefighters are in the corner of Motorola Solutions, and a showdown could come at a Tuesday night County Legislature committee meeting.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster said, "I would not be surprised if some litigation resulted from this either way."

The county is trying to comply with a federal mandate that emergency radio systems use a "narrow-banding" format to take up less space on the broadcast spectrum by Jan. 1, 2013.

Two committees -- Administration and Community Safety and Security -- unanimously approved a $13.4 million bid from Harris on June 14.

But the final approval was yanked off last Tuesday's agenda for the full Legislature after Motorola wrote County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz a letter June 16 blasting the county's bid process, which never included a formal request for proposals.

Motorola accused county leaders of leaking information about the technical side of Motorola's bid to Harris, allowing the latter company to come in under the wire with a lower bid than Motorola's.

Before the June 14 meeting, Motorola's bid was $18 million. Motorola asserted in its June 16 letter that it could build a system that does the same things Harris' proposed system does for $9.75 million.

If the county wants 1,850 brand-new portable radios for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel, as Harris promised, Motorola's price rises to $11.1 million, still well under Harris' bid.

Glatz released a letter last week from Harris president Steve Marschilok, who denied that the county gave him any tip-offs on Motorola's material.

He noted that some information, such as Motorola's plan to build new radio towers instead of leasing space on existing towers as Harris originally proposed, had been reported in The Buffalo News and said his last bid "reflected a reasonable response to publicly available information."

Harris' final bid called for constructing eight new towers, too. Neither company included the cost of those towers, estimated at close to $2 million, as part of its bid.

Former county fire coordinator and emergency management director James C. Volkosh, with three Motorola representatives in tow, showed up at last Tuesday's Legislature meeting. Volkosh is still deputy fire chief in Middleport.

Volkosh said that part of the makeover of the system included using federal grant money to buy new portable radios -- Motorola radios. He asserted that if those radios were traded in or scrapped as part of a move to Harris, the county would have to repay the federal grant.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the county has ignored its own purchasing policy in trying to buy a new radio system without a request for proposals. He said the process has been backwards.

"We're the customer. We should be dictating to our suppliers what we want," Virtuoso said. "That's the only way we're going to get a fair price."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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