Grants could help Shenandoah County cover 911 system replacement costs

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County needs to replace its aging 911 system, to the tune of about $350,000, leaders learned Tuesday.

But a large grant would help cover some of the cost, a consultant told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

A report prepared by consulting firm L.R. Kimball advises the county that it should replace the emergency 911 communications system at an estimated cost of $350,000. B. Shag Keifer, a L.R. Kimball project manager, presented the findings in the report that also indicates the county may switch to Verizon to receive 911 service.

“The bad news is that you’re paying a lot in maintenance to maintain an obsolete system,” Keifer said.

The Virginia Information Technology Agency and the Virginia E911 Services Board have awarded $150,000 through a public safety answering point program that the county could use to replace the phone system in the 911 center. The grant does not come with a required local match nor is the county obligated to accept it.

Additionally, an audit of the prior year billing shows that the county is due a refund from Shentel that also should result in reduced monthly billing for future years, the report states. Discussion with the services board resulted in the county becoming eligible for additional cost recovery for past, present and future years.

“We looked for other places where there might be money available and we had some discussions with the wireless board, and Shenandoah County was short-changed,” Keifer said.

Shentel continued to charge the county for the 911 service because the services board had not paid the telecommunications firm as the agency had other providers such as Verizon or Sprint, Keifer said.

“So we negotiated a solution with the state and they agreed it was unfair,” Keifer said.

The county should see payment of approximately $23,000, or $11,500 for each of the two years that the state didn’t pay Shentel for the 911 service pertaining to wireless calls. Keifer explained that the county should receive $7,400 a year for the wireless “trunks” that connect the 911 calls to the center, rather than have the state pay Shentel, Keifer said.

Other negotiations over the billing of the county could result in a few more thousand dollars, bringing the total to about $190,000 that would go toward the cost of the replacement, Keifer said.

L.R. Kimball and the county would need to go through the procurement process to determine the project’s exact cost. Keifer said Verizon doesn’t usually give price quotes on jobs before a board has given its approval.

The fiscal 2014 budget approved by the supervisors includes $150,000 of county funds to help cover an estimated replacement cost of $300,000. Supervisors discussed the cost estimate and the potential $150,000 in grants as they worked on the budget earlier this spring. The board learned Tuesday of the additional revenue sources that could help close the gap in the updated cost estimate, said Budget Director Garland Miller.

Shentel advised the county last year that it no longer would support or provide maintenance for the E911 telephone system equipment as of this July, said Acting County Administrator Mary Beth Price. She said Shentel has granted the county an extension deadline into December.

Keifer noted that the replacement of the sytem “is not driven only by Shentel’s decision to get out of the business of selling and maintaining 911 phone systems. It’s also driven by the fact that the equipment you have is getting near end-of-life.”

Some of the system components already have expired while other parts have some life left, Keifer said.

Replacement would cover three major components: the 911 phone system, the Automatic Location Identifier database and other related equipment, including the logging recorder which documents all calls. The current logging recorder is obsolete and a new one is needed, Keifer said, noting that the cost to lease and purchase a logging recorder is slightly less than what the county pays to maintain the current piece of equipment.

Keifer also recommended the county buy a new E911 phone system as an upgrade rather than seek bids for new equipment. That would keep costs low.

The county’s Automatic Location Identifier database also is obsolete. But Keifer recommended the county outsource the database service rather than keep it in the current location in the 911 center. Telecommunications firms such as Verizon operate databases in various locations around the country. Keifer noted that Kimball has been negotiating with Verizon to provide the service to the county. Doing so would put the county in a position to take advantage of future, statewide upgrades to the location system.

Prompted by a question by Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley, Keifer said L.R. Kimball would like to see the replacement completed by the end of the year, though such efforts can take anywhere from six to 18 months.

Price suggested the supervisors have Keifer prepare a proposal for discussion at their June 6 work session. The board could take action on the proposal at its regular meeting the following Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com