Voters OK Sales Tax Increase for Public Safety Radio Upgrade

Tuscarawas County, Ohio’s $11.6 million overhaul is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

by Jon Baker, The Times-Reporter / May 11, 2018
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(TNS) — NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — Now that voters in Tuscarawas County have approved a 0.5-percent temporary increase in the county's sales tax, work soon will begin on installation of a new $11.6 million radio system for law enforcement and first responders.

"It'll start to move really quickly now," said Sheriff Orvis Campbell. "Stuff will start going in our buildings."

The sales tax increase was approved Tuesday by a margin of 144 votes. It is scheduled to expire in two years.

The goal is to have the new system in place around Dec. 31, when the current radio system will reach its end of life. The county has signed an 11-year agreement with Motorola for upgrading equipment and software and purchasing 1,200 radios for the county and local fire and police departments.

In addition, Tuscarawas County will be joining the state radio system, called MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communications System).

Staley Technologies of New Philadelphia will install the equipment.

"It's going to move very quickly now," Campbell said. "We weren't bluffing people when we said we're at end of life. It could have lasted quite awhile after Dec. 31, but I'm telling you, February, March, if that radio system had gone down, we could have some big problems."

The system is so old that there were Motorola employees who couldn't provide advice on it, because no one else is using the equipment, he said. There aren't many people still qualified to work on the system, he added.

Last year, the county experienced a two-day outage with its system. A Staley employee rigged a piece of equipment to get it back up and running.

Fortunately, Tuscarawas County had a backup system in place.

"It's a much weaker system," Campbell said. "It's scratchy. It makes a lot of noise, but it did get every call answered. It served its purpose."

The new equipment will include radios for police cruisers and fire trucks and more technologically advanced pagers for firefighters. The current pagers tell firefighters where the call is. The new ones will let them listen in on everything going on so they know what to expect when they get on the scene of a call.

Joining the MARCS system will allow local law enforcement to talk to other people around the state.

"We've got a detective that's been in Coshocton for two days," the sheriff said. "He solved a burglary. Had we been on MARCS, he would have been able to talk to them direct. That won't come until this is fully implemented."

Jim Torch, fiscal and human resources officer for the sheriff's office, said there are some logistics to be worked on before the new system goes online. There are personnel from 17 police departments and 22 fire and EMS departments who have to be trained on the equipment.

"We've done it before," he said. "We'll get through it."

Campbell said he is grateful that voters approved the sales tax increase.

"We really hope that even the people who voted no, though, in two years when it drops back off, they will have pride in the system," he said.

The software on the new system should last for decades.

"It is nice for us to use, but it isn't typically our life that it's saving," he said. "It's their own family members."

Added Commissioner Chris Abbuhl, "It's not a luxury. It's a necessity. We are thankful that the people supported it and passed it. It's absolutely necessary."

He said the tax will come off in two years. "We will follow through with that promise."

©2018 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.