Lansing Highway Department

Last month the Lansing Town Board approved the purchase of a narrow band radio system for the Town Highway Department.  Town officials say this is a vital part of the Town's push for emergency preparedness.  Board members approved an expenditure not to exceed $50,000, which they hoped would be enough to equip the entire Highway Department fleet of trucks and other vehicles.  Highway Superintendent Charlie Purcell says he is in the process of deciding exactly what equipment should be purchased.

"I'm hoping it will be in the 40s, but we need to get the thing set up," says Purcell.  "Radios will be installed in all of our vehicles and the main pieces of equipment that we utilize on a daily basis.  We have 10 big trucks, five smaller vehicles, and five other pieces of equipment like our grade-all, loader, and backhoe.  20 mobile units that would work along with the four portable units we already have, and a base unit here."

Purcell says the new system will convert his department's radio communications from wide band to a narrow band system that will be a part of Tompkins County's emergency communications system.  The Lansing Fire Department converted to this system some time ago, and Purcell has enlisted the help of the Fire Chief in determining which radios are most economical, yet compatible with the county system.

They are consulting an expert who works for Tompkins County, managing the system.  Purcell says the County is currently upgrading the software on the system so he has had to wait before that person is available to offer his advice and coordinate adding the Lansing highway Department to the system.  Purcell says his preliminary research showed the radios he needs could be purchased for under $50,000, but that won't be known for sure until an actual order can be put together.

"We can set up for under $50,000 for sure," Purcell says.  "If we had to defer a couple of the radios until later, we could always do that.  If we could at least be 80% or 90% that would get us in the right direction.  This is the missing piece of the puzzle for emergency preparedness."

Once the radios are installed, the department will be in accordance with current FCC regulations.  The FCC mandated that licensees that operate on channel bandwidths of 25 kHz switch to narrow band systems operating at 12.5 kHz by January 1, 2013.  The ultimate goal is to use equipment that can operate on channels of 5.25kHz or less.

Besides finally having a system that is compliance with federal rules, Purcell says being part of the County system will provide better communications.

"The system we have is older and it's a wide band system, so by FCC standards it's no longer compliant," he says.  "The new system switches us to narrow band.  The ability to be in contact throughout the Town using the County towers is going to help us with the range.  There will be more clarity."

It has been a long time coming.  After a storm that knocked out electricity for over 3,500 Lansing homes in July of 2014 Purcell's predecessor Jack French told the Lansing Town Board that the town was decidedly not prepared to handle emergencies.  he complained that the current system did not allow him to communicate with his crew during the storm, especially when he was in the Salmon Creek valley and similar areas with poor radio coverage.  he further noted that the Highway Department's gas pump and repair show were dependent on electricity, but there was no emergency generator to insure emergency vehicles could be fueled in emergencies.  He further noted that while the fire department reimburses the Town for its fuel, it gets the fuel from the Highway Department pump.

The Town finally purchased a generator last month, and set up on a pad outside the Highway Department building.   Purcell says an appointment is set up with an electrician next week to hook it up to the 'Town Barn' (the Highway Department building).

"We'll have that up and going by the end of next week if all goes well," he says.  "We hope to be up and going at least prior to the February 15th Town Board meeting.  That's going to put us in really good shape."

At its January meeting the Town Board was supportive of the radio purchase. Purcell had underspent his 2016 budget by about $73,000, and suggested that some of the money saved could be used to purchase the radio system. 

"It sounds like the policy and principal we agree with you, especially since you were so cost-effective this winter," LaVigne said.  "That basically generated enough money to cover this.  It is very similar to what we did last year when we paved Myers Park.  So I think we can move forward on it."

Katrina Binkewicz made a motion to allow the narrow band radio system to be purchased, not exceeding $50,000.  A discussion ensued as to whether Village of Lansing property taxes should be used in addition to taxes collected from town residents outside the Village.  Supervisor Ed LaVigne noted the Village has its own emergency preparedness plan, and surmised Town assets would not be used there unless the Village requested help from the Town.

LaVigne advocated playing out of the B fund (from non-Village taxpayers), but Councilman Robert Cree said the Board only needed to approve the expenditure, and the accounting could be figured out later.   LaVigne said he would seek guidance from the State Comptroller's office.

Once the units are installed in the department vehicles, a base station set up, and a band assigned to the department on the county system, Purcell says his crew will establish protocols that comply with the County's procedures for communicating across departments.

"I think that this year our goal is to get this emergency preparedness plan done," LaVigne said.  "(Town board members) Katrina Binkewicz and Doug Dake have been pushing forward, and now we're ready to move to the next level."