Though the original plan was to have the new public safety communication system ready by Dec. 31, officials are still working out bugs and finalizing contracts to use state infrastructure.
(TNS) — Tuscarawas County's new $11.6 million radio system for law enforcement and first responders should go operational in March.
Sheriff Orvis Campbell said there have been a few small delays, some of them related to configuring the towers to transmit radio traffic. The original plan was to have the system ready by Dec. 31.
"There will be a couple of weeks of full-time testing before we go live, because we don't want to go live and have bugs in it," he said.
New furniture for the 911 center was installed in December. Campbell said all of the furniture was custom-made in Holmes County, which was actually cheaper than buying it elsewhere. It is of a much higher grade and better looking, he added.
The county is also in the process of finalizing its contract with the state 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.
In addition, it will also be getting two more radio channels for law enforcement to operate on, which Campbell said will decrease the chance that the system would time-out when police are really busy.
"The Ohio State Patrol will now be using the same infrastructure that we're using," said Jim Torch, fiscal and human resource officer for the sheriff's office. "Those guys will be taking advantage of our tower coverage. We get the new channels."
Campbell said the new system will also be utilized by game wardens, the Division of Watercraft and the state fire marshal.
"All of those guys had really horrible in-building coverage because it was built for the highways," the sheriff said of the MARCS system. "They were only operating off a couple of towers. Now they're going to be operating off our 12 towers too, so it's a good partnership."
Money for the project comes from a 0.5-percent, two-year sales tax increase approved by voters in May. Tuscarawas County began collecting the tax on Oct. 1. It will expire on Sept. 30, 2020.
The money allowed for the purchase of 1,200 new radios for the sheriff's office and police and fire departments throughout the county - at no cost to local governments.
"The commissioners felt that if we're asking the taxpayers to vote for a tax, they did not want the local entities - the cities and villages - to have to go back and pass another tax to be able to afford the new radios," Campbell said.
Other counties have not done it that way.
"Other counties have built the system and told every entity, you're on your own," he said. "Our commissioners thought that was unfair."
In 2017, commissioners signed an 11-year agreement with Motorola for upgrading the system equipment, software and purchasing the radios. The system is being installed by Staley Technologies of New Philadelphia.
For the first year of operation, the system is under warranty. For the next 10 years of the contract, the county will pay a user fee on each radio.
All of the mobile radios for cars and fire trucks have already been installed.
The portable radios haven't been distributed yet. "If you give them out early, you have to program them for the old system, and then you would have to program them again," Campbell said. "They won't go out until the system is operational."
While the new system will be operating from 12 towers, it still won't provide 100 percent coverage in Tuscarawas County. Motorola officials said the county could put up 25 towers and still not have 100 percent coverage because of all the hills and valleys.
"We'll have much better coverage," the sheriff said.
Baltic will have improved coverage because of towers that sit in Holmes County. Atwood Lake will now have great coverage because of a tower at Dellroy.
Torch estimated that the new system would provide 95 percent coverage, which he called outstanding.
"With those towers, it's just going to improve everything that we've got," he said. "We're real solid in the center of the county. It's the fringe that we've always had a problem. Dundee Falls was always a place. We should be able to get that with the Sugarcreek tower."
The new system will create one new problem, Campbell noted.
"The toughest part for the new system will be that everybody's going to have to memorize new areas that may still be dead spots," he said. "They know them now. There aren't many of those spots. Now those spots may be good, but because the towers are in slightly different places, we may have new dead spots we'll have to learn."
©2019 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.