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Lee set for communications upgrade

LEESBURG -- Officials with the Lee County Commission cited their lack of technological know-how in deciding last month to hire the Tusa Consulting Firm to help get the "most bang for the buck" as the county sought to replace its antiquated emergency radio system.

County Administrator Tony Massey said Tusa delivered that bang with its evaluation of a system proposal made by Motorola and negotiations on the $1.8 million price tag that came with the proposal.

"What Tusa did was identify potential change orders that could have cost the county more money down the road," Massey said Friday. "And they negotiated $80,000 in savings that, in essence, pays their cost.

"Upgrading our radio system is a complicated process, so the $80,000 spent here (on consulting fees) was money well-spent. We feel confident Tusa negotiated the best deal we can get on the system, and we have a much greater understanding of the technology. It's not rocket science, but it's close."

Carl Rader, a Tusa representative from the company's Atlanta office, will make a presentation to the full Lee Commission at its Tuesday meeting, and the commission will most likely take an opportunity to get the ball rolling on the emergency communications upgrade.

"There are three key action items that the board must take at the December meeting," Massey said. "They must approve the contract with Motorola, OK a memorandum of understanding with the city of Albany to link with their tower, and they must enter into a lease agreement for the erection of a cell tower on county property off (State Highway) 32.

"Once these items are taken care of, the cell tower must be constructed, equipment must be ordered and delivered from Motorola, and there will be an extensive training period with emergency personnel throughout the county.

That time frame is important because all public safety communications systems are under a federal mandate to have all radios converted to a narrow banding frequency by Jan. 1, 2013. Agencies that do not comply will be subject to large fines.

"When all of the public safety officials in the county -- the sheriff's office, E-911, fire, EMS -- brought this need to our attention, the board new we needed to update our inadequate communications system," Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said. "We allocated $1.2 million in SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds for that purpose and later decided to allocate $800,000 in advance funding so that we could move forward with the process as quickly as possible.

"Due to the complex nature of the purchase, the county administrator recommended -- and the board approved -- hiring Tusa Consulting, who are expecrts in the area of public radio systems."

Massey said he did his homework before calling on Tusa.

"I did some research and called on other city and county administrators to get a line on a consulting firm," he said. "Tusa came highly recommended; the people I talked with said they'd had successful experiences with them. When Mr. Duffy and I visited Tusa's Atlanta offices, we were impressed with their operation."

Tusa's staff went over a proposal earlier submitted by Motorola and helped hammer out a deal that both Duffy and Massey said they felt comfortable with. Now, the timing of installation becomes vital.

"We're going to get it done in a timely manner," Massey said. "It's crucial that we meet the federal mandate, but it's also important that we provide public safety personnel with the equipment they need to do their job well.

"This process took some time, but it was too important to rush through. All of the meetings we held were conducted in good faith by all of the parties involved, and the efforts of (E-911 Coordinator) Larry Hill, (EMS Director) Bobby Watkins and (Fire Chief) James Howell were an important part of the process. I think everyone came away pleased with the results."

Duffy certainly was.

"Once it's installed and operational, the new 800 megahertz radio trunking system will dramatically improve radio communications for our emergency personnel," the commission chairman said. "I think this is a good example of this board's commitment to public safety in Lee County."

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