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Board delays vote on safety radio system contract

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County taxpayers can expect to pay at least $11 million to replace the emergency communications center equipment.

But voters shouldn’t expect to get much of a say in whether or not the county should borrow the money to build the new public safety radio system.

The Board of Supervisors put off action Tuesday on a contract with Motorola to provide and install a system for the county’s public safety radios. The existing system is near its “end-of-life” – a term used to mean that companies no longer provide maintenance or replacement parts for the equipment.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass noted that supervisors have been working on the upgrade for almost three years. The board received a summary of the proposed contract with Motorola. Vass said the board could now approve the contract and the county could execute the agreement. County Attorney Jason Ham showed the board a thick binder that contained the full contract.

“I do want to point out we don’t have $11 million so, if you’re going to vote to do this, you’re also going to need to vote later in the month to borrow money to do this or break the contract, which I don’t want you to do, so just keep that in mind as you do this,” Ham said. “Obviously you’ve heard a lot about the necessity of this project …”

County officials have been in contact with the Virginia Resources Authority – the entity that works with localities to finance projects through issuing bonds on the open market.

Chairman Conrad Helsey said the board plans to hear from the county’s bond counsel with Davenport and Associates at its Sept. 6 meeting. The board also should receive cost figures at that meeting for the future Sheriff’s Office headquarters, including space for the new emergency communications center, Helsley said.

The board has until Sept. 26 to approve or deny the contract, Helsley said. The chairman suggested the board could further discuss the issue of the radio contract once members have the additional information on the other project. Ham advised the board to not put off a vote on the contract until its second September meeting. Motorola wanted the board to approve the contract by the end of August, Ham said.

“It will be much more expensive if we carry this into October, assuming they’re not going to change it again or basically extend their pricing again for us, and if you waited until (Sept.) 25, county staff would have to sign the document and pay 10 percent of the contract price the very next business day, which is possible but would induce an unnecessary level of potential problems.” Ham warned.

The end of life for the radio equipment appears to coincide with the county’s efforts to build a new headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office. Officials have claimed that the county would need to also build a new area for the replacement radio system because the existing location lacks space for the upgrades. Also, officials have said the existing system must remain online and functional during the installation of the new equipment. The addition of the new space to the future Sheriff’s Office headquarters caused a brief delay in the design work on the law enforcement project.

The county could finance the public safety radio project in a couple of ways. The county could seek to borrow money by issuing general obligation bonds. This process would require the county to put the question as to whether or not the board should borrow the money on the ballot as a voter referendum. Such a process would take time and must meet certain deadlines.

The county also could borrow the money by issuing moral obligation bonds – a process that does not require a ballot referendum. Rather, the Board of Supervisors would need only to vote on whether or not to issue the moral obligation bonds to fund the project. Previous boards have opted to use moral obligation bonds rather than ask voters to weigh in on general obligation bonds when the county funded such controversial projects as the construction of the Shenandoah County District Courts building and renovations to the old Edinburg School and the historic courthouse in downtown Woodstock.

The county initiated a needs assessment for its public radio system in 2016 that culminated with a report in 2017. The assessment identified and addressed end-of-life problems, capacity, coverage and operational limitations with the current system the county installed in the late 1990s.

The county issued a request for proposals seeking vendors that could design a public safety radio system that would address the deficiencies. A panel of representatives in local law enforcement, fire and rescue services and other areas reviewed the proposals. County officials kept the proposals from public view during the review process as allowed by state law. Vendors were not required to include a price with the proposals.

The panel selected Motorola as the vendor most capable of addressing the needs of the county’s future radio system. Private negotiations with Motorola commenced.

A negotiated price, including construction, contingencies and administration services provided by Mission Critical Partners totals $10.7 million. Specifically, the prices are as follows:

  • $9.17 million for the Motorola contract
  • $1.2 million for contingencies or unforeseen costs
  • $335,000 for project management services provided by Mission Critical Partners

Approval of the contract would obligate members to also fund the project, the attorney advised the board. The contract includes a payment schedule calling for the county to pay at least 10 percent of the price upon execution. The county would need to make more payments as the work progresses, according to the schedule, with the last 15 percent paid upon acceptance of the project.

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