Jan. 25--Leaders in York County and some other parts of Pennsylvania are facing a similar dilemma.
Should they spend tens of millions of dollars to change their emergency radio system?
Or should they wait -- and risk not being able to have the frequencies emergency responders need in the future?
New federal requirements were passed as part the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and they say certain public safety entities will need to change the frequencies they use to let police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders communicate wirelessly.
Some counties, like Dauphin and Delaware, are waiting to act.
"To ask our elected officials to fund an $80 million project on the hope and expectation that Washington will reimburse them -- I don't know how to phrase that," said Ed Truitt, director of emergency services for Delaware County, near Philadelphia.
York County commissioners in December decided to act, approving about $25 million worth of contracts to modify and upgrade their system.
But President Commissioner Steve Chronister said he got new information and had second thoughts afterward.
A public meeting about what the county should do next is scheduled to take place Monday morning.
Commissioner Chris Reilly said if there's a way to avoid spending the money, he's for that.
"But we just can't be irresponsible about it," Reilly said.
A March 2013 report from a working group for the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said all public safety operations will have to be cleared from the T-Band spectrum, which York County uses, by early 2023.
County spokesman Carl Lindquist said there are deadlines under the law, and there are also practical ones.
"We must move much quicker than the federal deadline in hopes of securing adequate frequencies for York County responders," Lindquist said in a December email.
Eric Bistline, executive director of York County's emergency services department, told commissioners that even though there are different frequencies available for public safety use, there aren't enough for all public safety entities. York County wants to be at the front of the line.
Here's a look at how some other counties are grappling with what to do.
Why Dauphin and Delaware counties are waiting
Spectrum space is used for a variety of purposes -- using mobile phones to make calls or search online, broadcasting TV and radio shows, communicating with two-way radios. As more people want to communicate wirelessly, more spectrum space is generally needed.
The 2012 legislation requires public safety entities to move their frequencies from the T-Band spectrum, while frequencies in a section known as the 700 MHz spectrum are designated for public safety entities.
The March 2013 report from the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council estimated that it would cost more than $5.9 billion for entities in affected metro areas to move.
Private businesses, such as mobile phone companies, will be able to purchase space on the T-Band spectrum through auctions. Proceeds from those auctions will fund grants to cover costs for public entities, according to the law.
But leaders of public safety entities say there's no guarantee that grants will cover all of the local costs.
Truitt in Delaware County said he's worried about the cost for taxpayers. He's also worried about complications from changing systems.
"We have a system right now that works," Truitt said. "A cop goes inside a building in Delaware County, it's going to work. I'm not willing to trade that for something that's unknown."
Dauphin County's current emergency radio system was operational in 2010, after a five-year design and build period, said Steve Libhart, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency.
The system cost about $35 million total, which included pagers, paging stations, handheld and mounted radio consoles, hardware, shelters, towers and antennae at the 16 tower sites throughout the county, as well as professional services. The county also has an agreement for annual upgrades.