Hard times and hard choices are upon us. From my perspective, even though the newspapers report the recession has ended, it looks like more and more agencies are spending less and less money on radio communications.
The state of Kansas, long known for fiscal responsibility (or simply tightfistedness) is warily eyeing a $680 million shortfall in the budget year beginning in July (just three months away). With the full momentum of the “trickle down” theory in operation, it’s only a matter of time before counties and cities are faced with spending cutbacks. These cutbacks are serious to lawmakers, but not like the real financial problems in the private sector where cutbacks equal job losses.
In a typical city government (technically a “municipal corporation”), employee retention and staffing levels are virtual fixtures. When bonded indebtedness approaches a submultiple of assessed valuation, the city’s ability to issue bonds (borrow money, buy radios) diminishes. But seldom is anyone let go because if things get really bad, tax increases are an option. All this is predicated on growth in population and assessed valuation, i.e. economic development.
Compare this to a private-sector radio shop that faces upward spiraling health-care costs for a small employee pool, a more rapidly evolving (at least changing) customer base and aged receivables so far out they appear to be at the vanishing point. We must not forget the curious nature of Radioman and the attendant costs of his ongoing care and training. Throw in a serving of deregulated telco costs and the de facto competition to land mobile from the various 2.78935G wireless providers, and it’s a miracle that shop owners and system managers keep, as my mother says of her retirement community friends, “their own teeth, their own hair or their own money.”
What to do?
What’s a fellow to do? Well, we can’t keep doing “more with less” as in the past. It looks to me like we’ll do “less with less” because the power of positive thinking eventually ends at the doorstep of the Fair Labor Standards Act office or with the Worker’s Compensation ad law judge. So if local government is so strapped, what options realistically present themselves for radio communications providers and operators?
We know that price is a consideration, so “it” must be realistically affordable in context of both service and reliability suited to the local jurisdiction. “It” could be priced as a recurring cost service or service-like capital replacement system because of the poor prospects for raising a big lump of money. In the past, “it” was specifically forbidden to be part of any service or system offered to the public. Contemporary wisdom leads us to readily see several advantages to having “it,” in some fashion, being strategically attached to a system shared in some form.
“It” isn’t a unique product or killer application as wireless entrepreneur firms hope to discover. “It” still comprises its original components of persistence, local commitment and adaptive thinking. I’m still looking for “it.”
Dunford, MRT’s public safety consultant, is technical services consultant for the Lenexa, KS, Police Department. He is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials — International. You can email Dunford at [email protected].