Ohio County to Spend $11.5M on First Responder Radio System

The multi-agency communications system will grant authorities access to six state towers, five of them located in areas just outside the county.

by Jon Baker, The Times-Reporter / December 19, 2017

(TNS) — NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — Commissioners have moved forward with a plan to purchase an $11.5 million radio system for law enforcement and first responders to replace the current system, which will reach its end of life on Dec. 31, 2018.

To pay for it, they are asking voters to approve a temporary 0.5 percent increase in the county's sales tax in the May 8 primary election. If approved, the tax would be collected from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2020, when it would expire.

Commissioner Kerry Metzger said that replacing the current radio system is not optional.

"On Dec. 31, 2018, the system isn't going to just shut down," he said. "But what it does is increase the risk that you have to assume that you're going to have more and more severe outages. That's the problem, and then eventually you're not going to be able to get parts, period. You've got to do it."

Added Commission Chris Abbuhl, "It's like a cellphone. It's not going to last for years."

The system was last upgraded in 2005.

Tuscarawas County will be joining the state system, which is called MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communications System). The county owns six towers that are used to transmit radio traffic. By joining MARCS, the county will gain access to six state towers, five of them located in areas just outside the county, according to Sheriff Orvis Campbell.

"That will give us coverage in dead areas like Atwood Lake and Dundee Falls," he said. "There are a bunch of areas, because of the county's terrain of hills and valleys, with shaky radio coverage. This will fill in just about all those gaps."

The county also will gain two additional radio frequencies.

On Monday, commissioners signed an 11-year agreement with Motorola for upgrading the system equipment, software and purchasing 1,200 radios for the county and local fire and police departments. The system will be installed by Staley Technologies of New Philadelphia.

Through negotiations with Motorola, county officials were able to get the company to reduce the cost by almost $1 million.

In the near future, Campbell; Jim Torch, fiscal and human resources manager for the sheriff's office; and representatives of Staley Technologies will be traveling to Motorola's factory in Illinois to finalize details of the project.

Campbell said it is important that Motorola begin its work soon so the project will be completed before the current radio system reaches the end of its life.

Motorola will provide interim financing for the project, Metzger said. The contract gives the county two years before it has to make its first payment. Tuscarawas County will pay 3.24 percent interest, and will refinance the project after the first payment is made.

If the sales tax increase is approved, it would bring in about $6.4 million per year, he said.

Commissioners said that money would be used for the purchase of the radios, other equipment and software. It would not be used for salaries or benefits of employees.

"We have trust in the voters that they'll see the importance in this and see that there's merit to it," Abbuhl said. "We're really getting a pretty good bang for our buck, even though that's a lot of money. Every county across the state has to do it at some point."

Commissioners said they will continue to pursue grant funds to assist with the project through such agencies as the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association (OMEGA), the federal Department of Homeland Security and the state's capital budget.

©2017 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.