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Radio purchase agreement criticized

AGREEMENT QUESTIONED — Paul Lauttamus, president of Lauttamus Communications criticizes the Brooke County Commission on Tuesday for not allowing local businesses like his own to bid on upgrades to the county’s emergency 911 system and equipment. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WELLSBURG — Communication was a key issue at Tuesday’s Brooke County Commission meeting.

The head of a Weirton business specializing in radio communications questioned the commission’s recent agreement with the Ohio County Commission for upgrades to the county’s emergency 911 system and equipment.

And representatives of an internet provider updated the commissioners on efforts to extend service to areas of Brooke and Hancock counties without it.

Paul Lauttamus, president of Lauttamus Communications and Security, told the commissioners they should have allowed local businesses like his own to bid on new radios and related equipment instead of entering into an agreement for the Ohio County Commission to purchase them from an out-of-state vendor.

Lauttamus said he’s had a long relationship with the county commission, loaning the county $180,000 in match funds for a state grant used to purchase two generators for first responders and repairing obsolete equipment used by the county at no cost.

“And yet, Lauttamus Communications isn’t good enough to be considered for future sales, installation and service opportunities?” he asked.

Lauttamus said while providing input into the commission’s independent study of communications upgrades, he was told more than once that he and others would be able to bid on the future project.

He said the move could cause him to reconsider the investment of several million dollars in the former Serbian American Cultural Center for use as a corporate headquarters expected to bring 15 to 25 new jobs and return at least $969,000 to the local economy.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said they were under the impression that bids would be sought for the radio equipment but found only one vendor met the qualifications.

Last week the commissioners approved a five-year agreement in which they will pay $1.7 million for radios and equipment to be purchased by the Ohio County Commission for police, firefighters and ambulance squads serving Brooke County.

County Commissioner A.J. Thomas said the arrangement allows the commission to pay off that cost over five years at no interest.

Wise noted the agreement also calls for Ohio County to receive $7,040 per month to maintain the equipment, including two radio towers serving the first responders.

One is near Weirton and the other is near West Liberty.

Lauttamus questioned whether the two will provide sufficient coverage, saying a Brooke County official had estimated the Ohio County communications system would support 60 percent coverage for portable radios.

“I am not sure how you can risk the lives of our first responders and spend $1.7 million on radios when you need more towers,” he told the commission.

Brooke County Magistrate Daniell Diserio told the commission as the wife of a firefighter and one of many residents served by first responders, “I really hope utmost care was made in the decision for that.”

Currently the county’s first responders are served by a handful of towers but incompatibility for some radios and reception-hindering terrain have been recurring issues.

Ohio County officials have assured such issues won’t be a problem when Brooke County emergency departments use their communications system, which is tied into the West Virginia Statewide Interoperable Radio Network

Bryan Harris of Scheeser Buckley Mayfield, the Uniontown, Ohio firm that conducted the study, said many factors were considered, including timing, cost and maintenance and the arrangement with Ohio County was deemed the best solution for Brooke County.

Wise told Lauttamus the commission appreciates his business and the part it played in studying the current system.

“We never wanted this to be personal,” she said, adding, “We were looking at solutions that were in the best interest of the county.”

Also on Tuesday, Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said up to $500,000 in federal grant funds are available to design Internet extensions to unserved areas and BHJ has negotiated with CityNet of Charleston to pursue them.

Chris Morris, senior vice president of business development and external affairs at CityNet, said public funds available for less populated areas can be combined with private funds to make broadband Internet available to larger areas.

Morris said one positive thing that has risen from the pandemic is the realization by government officials of the strong need for Internet service in many areas.

He and others noted that in some areas, it’s permitted communication between coworkers, patients and doctors and others during stay at home orders.

Thomas noted a BHJ study done shortly before the pandemic showed a demand for the service from businesses, first responders and many others.

In other business, the commission:

¯ Approved the $12,500 purchase of a dilapidated structure at 3027 Pleasant Ave., pending the availability of an adjacent abandoned structure at 3029 Pleasant Ave.

Commission President Tim Ennis said there are plans to raze the two and build a new station for the county’s ambulance service. He said the site would provide a more central location than the current one at Marshall Terrace off state Route 67.

¯Appointed Susan Donovan to the Hammond Public Service District board, filling a seat left vacant with the resignation of Dave McGowan.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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