Niagara County sought bids last week for its new emergency radio system, with a key legislator saying the delayed start likely won't get the county into trouble with the federal government.
Bids are to be opened Oct. 11 for the "narrowbanding" project, expected to be the most expensive county public works project since the expansion of the County Jail two decades ago.
The Federal Communications Commission has ordered users of emergency radio frequencies to build new systems so their voice and data transmissions take up less of the broadcast spectrum, hence the term "narrowbanding."
The deadline to do so is Jan. 1, 2013, with the FCC threatening heavy fines against laggards. But County Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, chairman of the Community Safety and Security Committee, said the county might not have to meet that deadline, even though the work was projected to take 18 months.
"That's our sincere intention, but we've been told by our project manager that for the first time, if there is substantial compliance, they'd consider applications for extensions," Wojtaszek said.
The project is expected to include constructing several radio towers, which means the county may have to acquire property.
The county's effort to award a contract through private negotiations imploded in June, after Kenwood Corp. charged in a letter that its bid was withheld from Kimball Associates, project manager.
The heat was on before that, as Harris Corp., long considered a distant second to Motorola Solutions in the bidding process, was voted the contract by a County Legislature committee.
Motorola accused county officials of leaking technical details about its bid to Harris, making it possible for Harris to beat Motorola's price. Harris denied the charge, saying it obtained its information about Motorola's bid from articles in The Buffalo News.
Under the possibility of litigation, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg advised the Legislature to start over with a regular bidding process.
Kenwood said its last bid was $6.8 million; Harris thought it "won" with a $13.4 million bid; and Motorola cut its price from $18 million to $11.1 million after the abortive award to Harris.
However, it was known Harris and Motorola were proposing systems that were significantly different from a technical standpoint. The technical characteristics of Kenwood's bid were never publicly discussed.
Stella Fulcher, the county's senior buyer, said she sent copies of the request for proposals to nine companies Aug. 22. She said the 258-page RFP is the longest she has handled in her 15-year career.
Wojtaszek said the RFP is "open-ended," meaning the county set goals for its new system, such as strong coverage inside buildings and in "dead spots" in outlying parts of the county, and avoided being too specific.
Wojtaszek said the county did state preferences, such as a one-cell system instead of separate eastern and western networks. But he said, "If a two-cell proposal is submitted and it's a lot cheaper, we'd consider it."
The RFP says the county would prefer that the new system use the three existing radio towers, with new towers to be erected whenever possible on county-owned land or on land owned by nonprofit organizations, to keep leasing costs down.
Besides new towers, the county envisions new portable units for police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders.