Saturday, July 26, 2014

Luzerne County 911 tower purchase explored

May 21. 2014 11:30PM

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Luzerne County officials are uneasy because they don’t own the primary 911 communications tower atop the Penobscot Mountain in Mountain Top, so County Council will be asked to approve a purchase.

“It’s such an essential and high-profile site, it’s in the county’s best interest to own it,” said 911 Director Fred Rosencrans.

The county leases the 160-foot-tall tower and a 500-square-foot building for $500 a month from property owners James and Amy Schall.

The Schalls have agreed to sell the infrastructure on 0.14 acres for $112,000, the appraised value established for the county by Rosen Real Estate in Wilkes-Barre.

County Council must approve property purchases under home rule.

Rosencrans was prepared to make a presentation last week to the council committee assigned to handle real estate matters, but committee members decided the information should be heard by the entire council at its next work session today.

Without the purchase, there is a risk the owner might choose to terminate the lease or raise the county’s monthly rental fees, he said.

If the county is evicted, it would be forced to acquire another site — if one is available — for a new tower, officials said. Construction of a new tower and related infrastructure elsewhere would cost about $450,000 to $500,000, including licensing costs and fees, county officials estimate.

Finding a suitable location and obtaining a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license would take time, said county Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik. Licenses are required to ensure a tower’s communications don’t interfere with others, and a limited number are available, he said.

The county’s existing tower also is poised to be the main communication link for statewide radio and broadband communications networks, Rosencrans said. These networks will allow 911 centers to share resources to save money, he said.

“With ever-changing technological needs for countywide radio communications, owning the tower site property will allow the county flexibility to make improvements, increase building size and allow for further development of the radio transmission facility, if necessary,” the administration said in its submission to County Council.

Fairview Township must approve a subdivision of the 66-acre Schall property to execute the sale, but Rosencrans does not anticipate any problems. An easement also must be included in the purchase to guarantee county access to the location, he said.

The purchase would not impact the county’s strapped general fund operating budget because 911 has $482,102 remaining in a fund set aside in the past to cover construction and capital repairs, officials said.

Prior county commissioners had approved plans in 2010 to buy 6 acres on the Schall property for $215,000 to build a new tower.

Those plans “fell by the wayside” when the administration changed, Rosencrans said.

“For fiscal responsibility and the sake of time, we decided we are fine with this spot,” he said.

Council will discuss the matter during tonight’s work session, which starts at 5:30 in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.

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