Johns Creek digs in heels on $16 million north Fulton radio system

Shared cost

Here is a breakdown of each city’s share of the cost for the proposed North Fulton Emergency Radio System. The shares are based on population, coverage area and the number of radios in use. City officials say these are high estimates and represent caps on what each city should be obligated to pay.

Alpharetta 19% $3,083,840

Milton 12% $1,997,120

Johns Creek 17% $2,756,800

Roswell 26% $4,246,720

Sandy Springs 24% $3,915,520

Total 100% $16,000,000

North Fulton County cities are poised to move ahead with a plan to build a new, $16 million emergency radio system separate from the one used by most Fulton County government agencies. But the project has hit a snag as Johns Creek questions the process of selecting the equipment provider.

Johns Creek officials want to know why Motorola was named as the sole supplier of equipment, used for police and fire communication, without a competitive bid.

As action stalls, public safety workers continue to rely on the county’s 20-year-old emergency radio system, which has been rife with problems. Occasional outages leave police and firefighters without communication for minutes and sometimes hours. On Oct. 19, the system was down for much of the morning and a backup had to be implemented until the trouble could be repaired.

Atlanta operates its own radio system.

Led by Sandy Springs, the cities of Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton have already committed to the first phase of the project. Sandy Springs has pushed for quick action in order to receive close to $1 million in discounts offered by Motorola.

Johns Creek City Manager John Kachmar is unmoved.

“I am going to tell the mayor and council that the only way you should get involved with this radio process with the other cities is if it’s being competitively bid and we’re meeting all the standards for procurement,” he said.

The City Council will discuss the proposal at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

The other cities have argued that safety concerns require the project move forward quickly. State law allows local governments to use price quotes from state contracts to bypass the local bidding process in many cases.

“We’ve got an old, aging, dilapidated system that we have frequent outages with,” Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said. “There are times when our public safety employees — first responders — are not able to communicate.”

The five north Fulton cities began discussing a replacement system in 2009. Much of those talks were primarily at the level of the police and fire chiefs, McDonough said. The northern cities cannot wait another six months to two years while the county works to replace its system, he said.

Fulton County’s plan calls for covering all the cities and schools outside Atlanta, including those in north Fulton.

That plan, with an estimated cost of $26 million, could leave north Fulton taxpayers paying for two radio systems, Johns Creek officials said. But McDonough said nothing prohibits the cities from partnering with Fulton County when it is ready to discuss coverage in the north.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said a partnership would make sense. She has directed the interim county manager to meet with north Fulton city leaders to discuss possible tie-ins.

Sandy Springs hired Norcross-based consultant Commdex in February to determine what would be needed to establish an emergency radio system in north Fulton County. The company’s recommendation included the use of Motorola equipment.

Motorola subsequently presented an offer that includes four new towers, master station and other equipment for about $13.6 million, including a customer loyalty discount of close to $1 million.

McDonough said all procurements were handled in accordance with state and city codes.

In their presentations to their city councils, police chiefs endorsed Motorola because of its large footprint in the area.

Roswell resident Russ Prindle, area sales manager for radio systems giant Harris Corporation, also has asked that his firm be considered.

“We and Motorola are the leading providers of these critical communication systems to public safety,” he said at a recent Roswell City Council meeting. “Typically, in those situations, the agencies and the taxpayers are the ones who benefit when you get the top two industry leaders.”

In many cases, you can save 25 to 30 percent over a typical state contract, he said.

Another firm, Secom Systems, has said it would have liked to have been a part of the bidding process.

“A state contract price, in a system, is really an artificial price,” company vice president Alex Hinerfeld said. “It does not take into account the total cost of deploying that system.”

A spokesman for Motorola said the company cannot comment on pending contracts.

Johns Creek City Councilman Randall Johnson, a former communications system business owner, said he agrees with the concept of cities pooling their resources, but waiting several months to bid the project is not asking a lot.

“I do not understand why there’s a sense of urgency,” he said. “We don’t know if we can save $1 million by doing it now because we have not competitively bid it.”