Million-dollar grant given to Luzerne County to upgrade 9-1-1 radio system

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HANOVER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Luzerne County is on the receiving end of a $1 million state grant to help pay for much-needed upgrades to its 911 radio system.

While the announcement is considered good news, it’s a drop in the bucket considering the total cost of those upgrades. The overall project will cost around $20 million. County officials tell Eyewitness News at this point, every dollar counts.

“We got $1 million. $1 million more than we had yesterday. We take these little steps to move us forward,” Luzerne County Manager Dave Pedri said.

Pedri keeps it all in perspective but he knows one way or another, the county has to come up with another $20 million to pay for upgrades to its 9-1-1 system.

“This is a project that will change how we do public safety here in Luzerne County. We’re changing to a digital system. This is going to make sure people are safe right here,” Pedri said.

The county council will meet on Monday to discuss their financial options. All options are on the table including a tax increase.

“At this point, it’s all part of the conversation. On October 15th the manager is going to introduce the tentative budget for 2020 so that’s going to be part of the conversation,” Luzerne County Council Chairman Tim McGinley said.

9-1-1 currently uses what’s called an analog-based radio system which is basically a patchwork of zones for the county’s first responders. A digital system will be a more reliable system Blanket coverage if you will. So says 9-1-1 executive director Fred Rosencrans. He describes how fire chiefs will communicate at a fire.

“When they are working on a structure fire or some type of incident they have to share a zone and that zone could be shared across several municipalities. With this system, we can assign tach channels or talk groups so when they are working on a structure fire they’ll have a specific channel assigned to them to work that incident. All the while we will be monitoring it from here,” Rosencrans said.

The clock is ticking. Luzerne County officials have to upgrade the radio system by the end of 2020. That’s when support for the current analog system will fade away. Equipment for the system will no longer be available. It was installed 20 years ago and is outdated.

All of this comes as Luzerne County officials also try to come up with another $4 million to upgrade its voting machines.

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