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City, county officials to discuss offer of free radios

City and Niagara County officials will meet next week to discuss the county's offer of $425,000 worth of free radios for the Lockport's Police and Fire departments.

The offer was made as part of the county's planned new $10 million emergency radio system, which is to include a tower at the city's compost plant.

In the future, the county's radios would be far more expensive to replace than the ones the city has now, Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said after a 40-minute closed-door session Wednesday with Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite and the Common Council.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz sent Lockport a letter last Friday making the offer of new radios and giving the city seven days to respond.

Eggert and Mayor Michael W. Tucker said their response was a request for more information.

Tucker said Thursday that Glatz, who did not return calls from The Buffalo News on the issue, emailed back with a proposal for the meeting.

"There's a lack of transparency," Eggert said. "We need more information, and we need it in writing. Right now it's a wink and a nod: 'Here's your free radios.' "

"We have a lot of questions," Tucker said. "I don't think any of us are stonewalling or being obstructionist."

"We're very content with the way things are," Passuite said Thursday. "About seven years ago we upgraded our radio system and it's been a 100 percent improvement."

He said firefighters now can communicate well inside several large buildings that gave them trouble before, and can be heard below the Niagara Escarpment, where there is a cluster of chemical plants.

Eggert said portable radios for officers last three to five years, and the ones the city has now cost $449. The county's radios will cost $4,100 each, Sheriff James R. Voutour said.

"They're close to top of the line," the sheriff said, adding he wanted the best warranties and performance he could get.

Mobile radios in police cars last a few years longer. The city's current model costs $2,000, while the county's new ones would cost $7,500 each, Eggert said.

"Even though it's free, we have to factor in the legacy costs," Eggert said.

He said he checked with Motorola, the county's radio contractor, and was told the company won't provide any solutions if, for example, its radios don't work inside a certain building or a particular area of Lockport.

"If something doesn't work, who's going to fix it? If we have to put some $20,000 repeaters on roofs of buildings so our officers are safe, then 'free' isn't so free," the chief said.

Voutour said the tower at the compost plant was included in the county plan specifically to solve such issues. He said putting agencies on the county's new ultra-high frequency 420-megahertz band will result in complete interoperability.

"I pleaded with Larry to go to the 420 and make this county interoperable. I just hope he does," the sheriff said.

Eggert said he's satisfied with the level of interoperability the city has now.