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Frio County officials are reporting this month that they believe a technology company whose local government contract has been ended is now hindering the process of transition to a new provider.
County commissioners had decided in July last year to terminate a contract with Helifox Technology; county auditor records show the company had first been contracted for a three-year term in 2019.
The decision to end the county’s relationship with Helifox was made last year after commissioners described the company’s services as inadequate.
“I think they bit off more than they could chew,” County Auditor Crystal Marquez said in an interview on Monday, March 6. “We had to call them almost every day for tech support.”
Marquez said that after the county ended its long-term agreement with Helifox in July, commissioners agreed to keep the company on a month-by-month contract until the newly contracted carrier, Spectrum, could complete transfer of all the county’s telephone numbers.
“Since we hired Spectrum, Helifox has been dragging their feet,” County Attorney Joseph Sindon said. “We put our faith in Helifox to provide phone service for its most important services that it provides to the citizens. That faith was misplaced.”
By January 3, Helifox still had not ported the county’s numbers to Spectrum and the county lost all internet and phone services.
Courthouse staff have pointed to the go-slow as a red flag alerting them to possible future difficulties with the transition.
Marquez contacted Spectrum and learned the county’s phone and internet services had been disconnected due to an apparent failure to pay a $20,000 fee. Further research showed that Helifox had contracted a third party and was not paying its bill.
Sindon said Helifox eventually turned over paperwork and the county attorney learned Frio had been paying for service at locations outside the county.
The county attorney is now alleging that Helifox is further hindering the transition to services by Spectrum by refusing to release its hold on the county’s telephone numbers.
“They are holding our existing numbers hostage until Frio County agrees to pay bills that have little foundation in legality,” the county attorney said. “Frio County refuses to be held hostage and is continuing forward with the new provider.”
Sindon also alleges that Helifox has been actively causing interruptions to county phone lines, internet services and camera footage since January.
Marquez said she has reached her wits’ end after service interruptions on January 3, in mid-February and on March 3.
The emergency phone line has not been affected.
Sindon said most of the county offices that have been affected are using cellphones and have repurposed their fax lines.
Frio County Judge Rochelle Camacho said she reached out to the technology company on March 3 and explained she was trying to obtain information about the contract and asked for time “to figure things out.”
The judge said that although the company agreed to give the county up to 45 days to resolve its issues, Frio County lost its telephone service within an hour of her call.
Sindon said that after the termination of the contract with Helifox, the company took existing county phone numbers and gave them to other providers.
Of the 46 existing county phone numbers, Marquez said she was able to find 24 that Spectrum would be able to use.
“We will not allow someone to extort public funds for any reason,” Sindon said. “In the meantime, Frio County continues to review its legal options. Right now our primary concern is restoring full phone service back to the courthouse and adjacent and associated buildings.”