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From the Desk of Commissioner Candidate Paul Kellett

(9/1) The current Adams County Commissioners are moving forward with the emergency radio project that will cost county taxpayers between $20-35million. Randy Phiel wrote in his article last month that this project needs to be done. I agree. But the price tag and who will pay it is where my concerns come in. It seems as if this project is advancing without exploring funding sources other than Adams County property taxes. This is where leadership comes into play. A good commissioner not only identifies a problem and a need- in this case replacing the radio system- but also looks to how to best fix that problem and pay for that need.

Recently, I had the honor to be the guest of Adams County Sherriff, James Muller, at the Pennsylvania State Sheriffs’ convention. I was surprised to hear at that convention that a nationwide emergency radio system was moving through the halls of Congress and that this bill, The Public Safety and Wireless Innovation Act, would actually fund and build the emergency system for the whole country. The remarks came from the National president of the Sheriffs' association. He went on to state that the bill had the full support of all the national emergency responder associations. He also thought passage was likely.

An internet search reveals that the Senate bill did pass out of committee on a vote of 21-4. Such a wide margin indicates bi-partisan support (unusual these days). The funding for the Federal program would come from auctioning off radio spectrum made available by entering the digital age. The bill was called Senate bill 911, because it would address the problems many emergency responders faced during the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001. Brave emergency responders were put needlessly in harm’s way that day because their radios did not operate on the same frequencies as other emergency responders working with them. Tragically, the Twin Towers proved for some responders to be a tower of Babel. The need for a national radio standard became sadly apparent that day.

Even if this bill does not pass, national standards seem likely. Will the new system now being considered by the county be compatible with those standards? Or will our new state of the art system be obsolete in just a few years? Even if the system as designed meets this test, does the price tag fit our budget? The County’s annual budget is about $40 million, much of which is spent on the courts and the prison and other non-discretionary expenses. In order to pay $20-35 million for the new radio system, the County will have to take on new debt by issuing a bond for fifteen to twenty years. This worries me. It is akin to taking out a mortgage on your home to buy cell phones. The debt remains unpaid long after the technology it bought is obsolete. And then there is the pricetag- there are 840 emergency radios in the County. Divide $25 million by 840 and the cost of the system per radio on it is about $30,000. Thirty thousand dollars per radio seems like an awful lot of money to me. Is this really the system we need or does it contain a lot of bells and whistles that would be nice- but ones we really cannot afford? What good is an emergency system if no one can afford to live in the area it services?

In conclusion, I feel that it is clear that the emergency radio project needs the attention of the Adams County Commissioners. The current system is antiquated. However, I think that we need to research the problem thoroughly to see if other funding sources are available, if it will truly meet our needs for years to come, and if it is the absolute best buy for our tax dollars. If I am fortunate enough to become a Commissioner, I am positive that I will be given many opportunities to spend taxpayer money. Many of these opportunities will be brilliant and seem absolutely necessary. It is the job of the Commissioners to recognize that not all of these ideas can fit into a very limited budget. Hard decisions will need to be made. In my six years as a Freedom Township Supervisor, I have had to ask the question many times, "Is this expense really worth raising the taxes of the seniors here in the township?" Fortunately, we have never confronted an expense that was worthy of raising taxes. When Freedom Township voted to challenge the reassessment, we decided that that cost should be raised by donations, because it was for all taxpayers of Adams County. There was a need, but there was also a responsibility to the residents of Freedom. A balance was struck. It may turn out that no federal money is available for the emergency radio system- it will still have to be built. The County may even need to raise taxes to pay for it. We just need leadership in the County that will make sure that every penny is spent wisely so that any increase in taxes is the absolutely the minimum needed to get the job done.

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