Like other emergency services agencies across the country, York County's 911 system is being forced to surrender its bandwidth and join a new one.

The switch was recommended by a federal commission formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The group said emergency radio communications were ineffective, so Congress mandated agencies using a bandwidth known as T-Band turn over their bandwidth to the Federal Communications Commission and join a different bandwidth allocated just to public safety.

That would be all well and good, except that York County just completed a $44 million overhaul of its 911 system about five years ago.

Now county taxpayers are looking at another $27 million to make the frequency switch.

The federal government plants to auction off the T-band and put the money into a fund to be distributed to those who had to vacate their frequencies -- but it's far from clear how much will be raised and how much cost will be distributed to agencies like York County 911.

As we've noted before, this is not the fault of anyone at the county level. If blame is to be placed, it belongs to members of Congress who approved this mandate and have authority to amend it if they choose.

However, local officials are responsible for seeing to it the switch goes smoothly and that York County residents are getting the best possible deal.

Yet recent action by the county commissioners leaves us wondering if they're are up to the task.


Last month the board signed off on four contracts related to the switch, the largest being a $20.6 million agreement under which Harris Corp. of Virginia will move the county's radio communications into the new system.

The others were a $3.1 million deal with Alcatel-Lucent of Texas to upgrade a microwave system, a $119,800 contract with New Jersey-based Kova Corp. to provide maintenance, and a $1.2 million contract with Safety, Security and Communications Consultants of Maryland for project management and other services.

The problem is none of this work was put out to bid.

Eric Bistline, director of the York County Department of Emergency Services, said he didn't ask for other proposals because the project falls under exceptions for proprietary work and professional services.

Bistline told the commissioners the county would save money on the largest contract because Harris installed the existing radio system and can use many of that system's components as building blocks.

Harris also offered a discount to lock into the work now, and going with a different vendor would've nearly doubled the cost of the $20 million portion of the required work, he said.

All that might be true, but a good way to find out for sure would have been to let other companies bid on the work.

And keep in mind, the last upgrade didn't go smoothly by anyone's standards.

Reliability problems with the new network caused delays and frustrations, a lawsuit by police unions who wanted to go back to the old system and the threat of a lawsuit from a fire company that wanted a refund.

It seems to us county officials would want to take this project slow and get it right.

Two county commissioners actually did voice concerns about the no-bid contracts, but went ahead and approved them anyway.

This project is not off to a great start.