Harford County residents would love to pay at the pump the price the county government agreed this week to pay for gas: $3.20 a gallon. The county government also approved doing what many residential customers already have done: phase out their land lines.
The Harford County Board of Estimates recently approved a bulk fuel purchase worth $3.8 million, which is expected to save considerable money compared to if it were paying retail pump prices like ordinary consumers. The county is also taking steps to get rid of its current antiquated land line phone system in favor of using the multi-million dollar fiber optic network it has been installing.
"It's substantially less than what we pay at the pumps," Warren Patrick, fleet manager for the county's procurement department, said of the new gas contract during the board's July 24 meeting, where several technology related contracts, some involving the phone system, also were approved.
Patrick said Harford is paying an average of $3.20 a gallon. Prices for regular gasoline in the Bel Air area in recent days have ranged from $3.42 to $3.47 a gallon, according to http://www.gasbuddy.com/.
The county will purchase its gasoline and diesel from PAPCO Inc. of Aston, Pa. for its vehicles and equipment, according to bid documents.
The purchase is classified as an "intergovernmental cooperative purchase" with Baltimore County, according to documents.
Patrick explained that Harford is part of a consortium of counties and educational institutions in central Maryland that has committed to the bulk fuel purchase. The $3.8 million is Harford's portion of the expense.
"The more you and I and the rest of us buy as a group, the better price we get," he said.
Patrick also stressed that the county can recoup some of that cost because it bills other local government agencies, such as the Town of Bel Air, the county libraries and volunteer fire companies, to obtain gas from Harford fuel stations.
Patrick said county officials calculate how much fuel they plan to use during the year, put out a bid for the largest amount they can take "at the best price that you can get, and it's locked in for the most part."
Of course, retail pump prices fluctuate wildly, which is another advantage of locking in a bulk contract, provided the market timing is right.
Patrick said Harford County has been buying fuel on the futures market for years.
The locked price helps the county if oil prices rise, but it can also hurt if they take a significant drop, he noted.
"If you're part of the group you've got to hang in there," he said of keeping the commitment to the consortium even when prices change.
Land line phase-out
Estimates board members approved a series of technology-related contracts for phone and Internet systems that will eventually be phased out as the county continues to implement its HMAN system, or Harford Metro Area Network.
The $13.8 million HMAN system, which includes four main fiber-optic rings, went live in late May. The network, which is operated by the county, is designed to provide high-speed Internet service and communications to schools, law enforcement, libraries, the public schools, the county government, volunteer fire companies and the county's three municipalities.
The estimates board unanimously approved a $425,000 contact for one service that the county's technology director said will eventually be phased out, its current land line telephone system.
The one-year contract for the Centrex, or central office exchange service, is with Verizon Maryland Inc. of Dallas, Texas, according to bid documents.
The Centrex is used "as the backbone, basically, of our phone system," Ted Pibil, director of the county's Office of Information and Communication Technology, told board members.
Pibil said Centrex will be phased out by connecting the telephone system to the HMAN.
The county will also phase out its frame relay services, which are designed to connect the county's data network to remote facilities, Pibil said.
Pibil said those sites also would be connected through the HMAN.
The board unanimously approved a one-year $130,000 contract with Verizon Maryland Inc. for the frame relay services.
The board also unanimously approved two contracts for services that will dovetail with HMAN, including a one-year $85,893.94 contract with Level 3 Communications Inc. of Broomfield, Colo. to provide dedicated Internet access, plus a $1.4 million contract for a multi-tenant VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, voice communication system with ePlus Technology Inc., of Herndon, Va., according to the bid documents.
Pibil told estimates board members that "our current county phone system is way out of date; we can only get used parts for it."
"With the advent of HMAN, we're going to be able to connect our phone system over HMAN with Voice over Internet," Pibil explained. "It's going to lower our costs [and] bring in a new phone system with new capabilities that we currently don't have."
He said the system is multi tenant because agencies such as the county libraries, fire companies and Bel Air officials have expressed interest in connecting to the county's VoIP phone system.
Pibil said the county received three qualified bids for the VoIP contact; ePlus was the lowest bidder – with the highest combined cost and technical score – of the three bidders.