BLOOMSBURG — New police and fire department portable radios could cost just shy of $1 million in Montour County, officials learned Thursday night.

East Central Emergency Network Director Brian Pufnak invited municipal officials to a meeting Thursday night in the Columbia County commissioners conference room. About 30 people, including firefighters, attended.

Bill Richendrfer, a member of the advisory board of the 911 center network, provided the cost estimate before Jason Ramsay, of Motorola, gave cost estimates for radios for a digital system. Portable police radios are estimated at $5,000 each and fire department portable radios at $4,380 each. He said small inexpensive radios could be available to fire police.

Pufnak said departments won't have the amount of radios they have had in the past.

Pufnak said Montour County, with the current system, still has a lot of microwave problems. He said existing equipment with the current system, serving Columbia and Montour counties and Riverside and Rush Township in Northumberland County, is at the end of its life. 

He said a STARNet system, led by a state police team, can guarantee 95 percent mobile radio coverage. The state would maintain tower sites and the center would pay for equipment on towers. Firefighters could speak directly to state troopers or to PennDOT personnel with that system, he said. 

The center board has entered into an agreement stating it is interested in the system and new radio consoles and a paging system have been ordered, he said. The next phase is a new tower, proposed as the WPGM tower on Montour Ridge. The drawback is it takes a year to put up a tower from the time papers are signed, he said.

Ramsay said Motorola has a contract with the state to roll out the system. The new system for Columbia and Montour could be operating by 2021.

The counties would provide equipment for four tower sites with the state providing equipment for other tower sites and the state donating $200,000 worth of equipment, he said. He said the state is also donating four frequencies to the center worth $4 million. 

Pufnak said grants are available to help pay for radios such as funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for rural communities.

Ramsay said Motorola could lease radios to municipalities for seven years.   

Riverside Police Chief Kerry Parkes said he has heard complaints about radio communication in Northumberland County. Northumberland County has finished three sites by upgrading infrastructure, Pufnak said, and just commissioned a new tower in Riverside.

He told the group he understood this was a burden for everybody and that he was open to conversation "to see how we can all work together." 

Montour County Commission Chairman Ken Holdren, who heads the 911 center board, and Commissioner Trevor Finn held a private meeting with those attending from Montour County and Riverside municipalities including Danville, Mahoning Township and Valley Township. 

After the meeting, Finn said they discussed funding opportunities, how the county could help subsidize the purchase of radios and the importance of the new system. He said they received favorable feedback from the police and fire agencies represented.

The network board will vote on moving forward to accessing the new system when it meets Aug. 22.

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