County loosens ties with state radio system

Discouraged by services

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Increasing costs and a lack of control of services or maintenance from WyoLink, a statewide radio network, have prompted Sublette County Commissioners to beef up the county’s own radio system for emergency services.

WyoLink is a statewide public-safety communications system designed to coordinate communications between state, local and federal agencies.

At their Feb. 20 meeting, Sublette County Commissioners verified the county is paying the bill for WyoLink radio services for the fire department, emergency medical services, search and rescue and the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department. The total bill was estimated at $100,000 annually.

Sublette County Unified Fire Chief Shad Cooper called it “a shell game.” WyoLink has a $5 million budget, the state pays $2.2 million and everyone who uses the system pays a portion of the remaining $2.8 million. Even though WyoLink changed how it charges, whether an agency pays per radio or per click, WyoLink has to cover its expenses, Cooper said.

Following the meeting, Cooper said that means the county has an expense that can’t be controlled. In addition, the county has no say in the facilities and services. For example, in the Pinedale Fire Station Cooper is unable to use the radio he has been issued because there is no WyoLink coverage.

Sheriff K.C. Lehr said he doesn’t see WyoLink changing – unless the cost goes up.

In an attempt to get control of the costs, the Sublette County Commissioners hired Jack Hart with Tusa Consulting Services to establish a request for proposals to provide a multi-site design with specific radio channel assignments for each site. The proposal includes licensing by the Federal Communications Commission, channels and transmitter power levels to cover the entire county. 

Two bids were received – one from Harris and the other from Motorola. Commissioners said Harris was nearly $1 million less expensive, at $2.67 million.

Hart said the Harris quote included everything requested, but Motorola made some of the items optional or upgrades for additional costs. Annual maintenance was higher with Harris.

Cooper said both quotes for maintenance were high because the companies figured in travel from Salt Lake City. He said, “They did the quotes not knowing there was a Jack Hart locally that could do most of the maintenance.” As part of contract negotiations, the maintenance costs should be discussed, Cooper said.

Neither company would guarantee frequencies or additional licenses were available. When WyoLink was established, the state made a move “to grab and lock up” as many available frequencies as possible, Hart said. Initially a simulcast system was considered, requiring only six licenses. However, it was determined the county was too big for a simulcast system, which meant it needed to look at a multicast system so each of the five proposed towers would need six frequencies or 30 licenses.

Hart was unconcerned, saying if the frequencies aren’t available, they would just look at a different band. He said he doesn’t want to see licensing stall the project. “It would be fine if the county got off the overcrowded highway and moved a couple streets over.”

Hart said Harris knows there are other counties looking to quit relying on WyoLink, and they are watching how the experiment will go in Sublette County.

“I feel more comfortable doing things by ourselves,” Commissioner Mack Rawhouser said. “Harris has bent over backward to accommodate Sublette County to get the company’s foot in the door.”

Hart also recommended in the contract negotiations the county pay an upfront percentage so licenses can be purchased, but hold back a retainer until the project is completed and tested. He said past contractors who were paid in full had no motivation to return when systems did not work properly.

Commissioner Joel Bousman asked if the county improves facilities to meet additional needs, then could the county approach WyoLink and offer to rent space?

Cooper said WyoLink will remain in place for Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Wyoming Department of Transportation, but Sublette County emergency agencies would have improved communications. They may want to rent space on the improved facilities, he said.

The added infrastructure, including five new or upgraded transmission sites, is also a step forward in improving cell phone coverage and future Internet coverage for the entire county, Cooper said.

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