County OKs 2nd pact to upgrade network

Seneca County commissioners agreed Tuesday morning to contract with a local company to provide upgraded network capabilities for county offices and emergency personnel.

The 20-year, $719,000 deal with Bascom Communications will upgrade the county’s internet lines from T1 (telephone-based) lines to fiber technology. The county will lease several strands of underground fiber within a fiber ring from the company. The county’s network will be private and could be upgraded further with more equipment.

The board considered the upgrade last week before coming to a decision after more discussion Tuesday.

In June, the board approved a 10-year, $500,000 deal with Motorola for its Next Generation 9-1-1 System, which is supposed to allow quicker, more efficient services for emergency calls. The system also is to allow dispatchers to receive text, picture and video messages, and give more accurate longitude and latitude readings.

County Administrator Stacy Wilson said the system is not working because the T1 lines, a technology used since the 1960s, cannot handle the system. She said the system works on T1 lines in some areas and the county was told it should work for Seneca County when the system was purchased.

Jake Schaaf, who handles IT for the county, said it’s not possible for the system to work on the county’s T1 lines because the connection is not good enough.

The Bascom deal is to piggyback with the Motorola contract, unlocking fiber optic capabilities of the Next Generation 9-1-1 System.

Commissioner Shayne Thomas, who voted against the contract Tuesday, took issue with the Bascom Communications deal because he said he wanted to make sure the county was getting the best price. He argued that since Bascom was the only company to offer a quote, it may not have been the best possible deal.

“Give me something to compare it to,” he said.

Gene Thompson, a resident who said he worked for AT&T for 34 years and had experience with similar projects, asked commissioners to wait another week before making a decision because he spoke with representatives from AT&T and thought the county could get a better deal.

“With technology, things that look like a good idea today might not look as good in five years,” he said.

Thompson said an AT&T representative told him the company would be willing to give a quote to the county for a fiber project that would be about $73,000 over three years. He said commissioners had not received a quote from AT&T because they were not asking the right questions. Thompson said a shorter deal would be a good idea because it would allow the county to reassess where technology is after a few years without committing to a 20-year lease.

He said new technology, such as 5G networks, are to be available in the next couple years and that could change the decision-making equation for county officials.

Schaaf said several experts, county officials and members of a committee tasked with investigating the county’s options worked through these concerns and recommended that fiber as a backbone will set the community up the best for the next 20 years.

Commissioner Holly Stacy said AT&T should have been more amenable to the county during the process.

Schaaf also said the lower price from AT&T should be considered skewed due to it not connecting 14 locations to the network. Thompson said it is likely only four locations would be connected to the network under the AT&T proposal.

Commissioner Mike Kerschner said he would have been more open to listening to Thompson’s ideas earlier in the process. He said the county had been discussing the project since about 2012.

“We’ve done our due diligence for over five years,” he said.

Kerschner and Stacy voted to approve the deal, which is to be advanced from the General Fund and then paid back from the 9-1-1 Fund, which collects about $115,000 annually via cellular bills of county residents. County Administrator Stacy Wilson said the funding plan was not finalized, but about $100,000 is available in the 9-1-1 Fund.

Thomas disagreed with the decision to approve the deal, although he said it was not meant to be an indictment of Bascom Communications, as he supports the project and the company.

“I think we owe it to the taxpayers to give it a week to get (any other proposals),” he said. “We’ve been at this a couple years, I don’t think another week is going to hurt us. I think we should do another week of due diligence.”

Kerschner and Stacy disagreed, saying the process had been exhausted.

Thompson said Bascom Communications has earned its good reputation and he said the county did not make a bad decision; he just wanted to give commissioners more options.

In other business, Stacy said three road projects in the county received about $870,000 in grant funding from the Ohio Public Works Commission.

She said applications were submitted for four projects, all of which were approved, but she said Fostoria officials declined their funding.

Stacy said the Seneca County Township Road Reconstruction Program received about $466,000, which is to fund about 46 percent of the cost. She said the CR 19 and CR 39 resurfacing projects received about $378,000, or about 45 percent of the cost, and the Jackson Township TR 41 surfacing project received about $21,000, which represents about 31 percent of the cost.

During new business, the board approved:

• A $2,175.24 supplemental appropriation to the General Fund.

• A $50,000 supplemental appropriation to the Ditch Maintenance Fund.

• A $705.71 appropriation adjustment within the County Sewer District Fund.

• Reappointment of Kathy Oliver as county prevention specialist to the Northwest Ohio Regional Prevention Council.

• Reappointment of Sharon George as county prevention specialist to the Northwest Ohio Regional Prevention Council.

• Hiring Jason Distel as an intermittent paramedic for the Seneca County EMS Echo Unit.

• An Ohio Department of Transportation summer contract for road salt on behalf of the county engineer.

• The purchase of a 2018 Chevy Equinox on behalf of the Seneca County Auditor. The vehicle was funded by the Real Estate Assessment Fund.