The November 7 election will give the Darke County voters an opportunity to assist the emergency response entities of our county including Fire, EMS and Law enforcement. The issue being proposed to the residents of Darke County is a 0.45 mill levy, with monies being used to fund the transition from the current VHF radio system to the MARCS Radio Communication System.
The revenue from the levy would be based on a valuation of property at a calculation of $15.75 per year per $100,000 of residential property appraisal. The levy will be continuous, first to start to pay down initial implementation costs for all entities, and then set aside for future maintenance, user fees and replacement of equipment as needed.
The transition to the MARCS Radio Communication System will take place April 2018 regardless of the outcome of the election. The current VHF system being used by Darke County Fire, EMS and Law will be phased out after the transition and Darke County Radio Communications System will be operating on the Ohio MARCS Radio System from that point forward.
Why the direction of the MARCS Radio System? Four years ago it became apparent that the current VHF system utilized by the county was going to need to be replaced or upgraded in the future, as many key components of the systems will be reaching end of life in reference to technology. At that time, discussion among county officials and local entities saw the need to establish a radio communications committee to evaluate the future needs of Darke County.
The task of the committee was to identify a radio system suitable for the needs that benefits Fire, EMS and Law into one system. The committee was/is comprised of representatives from the Darke County Commissioners, Darke County Sheriff’s Office, Darke County EMA, Darke County LEPC, Darke County Association of Fire Chiefs, Darke County EMS, Darke County Village Police, Greenville Police, City of Greenville, Mayor Representative and Darke County Township Trustees. Over the course of the last four years, discussion and debate among all county organizations from the entities listed above communicated needs and concerns to their representatives of the county radio communication committee. With feedback from all entities servicing the emergency responses to Darke County and surrounding counties, the determination was made to transition to the Multi Agency Radio Communication System, commonly referred to as MARCS.
Benefits of MARCS. Interoperability beyond county lines. The current VHF system has served Darke County well to date. Darke County Fire, EMS and Law are currently able to communicate to each Darke County entity with the system in place, along with City of Greenville entities. The issue communicated to representatives of the radio communication committee was the daily need to be able to communicate with surrounding county agencies as well. When a call for service is received, whether it be Fire, EMS or Law, sometimes help from a neighboring department is needed to assist. The closet neighboring department may be responding from an adjacent county, shining light on the communication barriers currently present.
The MARCS communication system bridges that gap by allowing Darke County responders to communicate with surrounding counties well beyond adjacent counties and also within Indiana. Radio communications on a large scale incident, whether it be in Darke County, or a county that Darke County entities respond to, would have the ability to communicate with Incident Command and the various operational stages of the incident, insuring the awareness of details and safety of all assisting in the task. Currently Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Mercer, Auglaize Counties, City of Sidney, ODOT, ODNR and OSP have capabilities of the MARCS Radio System, along with similar entities in Indiana.
Costs Associated. The upfront investment of the transition is costly, well beyond the cost to upgrade or replace the current VHF system. The question may arise, why not upgrade or replace the current system? Two main reasons are behind this decision: interoperability between jurisdictions as discussed prior, and re-allocation of costs related to current and future maintenance and reliability of equipment. The MARCS System well exceeds communication ability that is currently available thru the VHF system and with that, costs are associated to implement.
Currently the five VHF Radio communication towers are funded by the county. With the transition to the MARCS system, the maintenance, system, and technology updates and assurance of reliability falls within the agreement of service thru the monthly user fees per radio. Darke County will no longer be financially responsible for the communication towers and related maintenance costs, updates to equipment, and operation of the towers. The responsibility of the radio communications towers will be the responsibility of the Ohio MARCS.
Achievements to Date. The past few years, entities have worked to apply for Ohio Grant money to offset some of the initial transition cost. The Darke County fire departments, jointly applied and received monies from the State Fire Marshal’s Office in excess of $600,000 to purchase portable radios with technology capable for the MARCS Radio System. Darke County was also a recipient of the Ohio Community and Development Safety Grant in the amount of $500,000 to install a Communications Tower needed for the transition.
Community Impact of the Election Results. With the Darke County Radio Committee unanimously agreeing to make the transition to the MARCS system, the transition is taking place regardless of election outcome. A voter is not going to the polls to decide if the transition is going to happen. A voter is casting their vote whether or not they are willing to assist their emergency response entities financially in securing the needed equipment funding.
The issue at stake is not an issue of each community or each department, this is a county issue. We smaller departments rely on mutual aid to assist on larger incidents, we work together to handle emergency situations, and by doing so we need to be able to communicate to insure the safety of all responders. The passage of the Levy will provide all Darke County Fire, EMS and Law enforcement the needed equipment for the April transition to insure our community, and when needed assistance from neighboring departments, the ability to maintain radio communication. If the levy fails, the financial burden is placed on the individual entities to acquire the remainder of equipment needed to make this critical transition.
Additional Comments. The past few weeks I have had the opportunity to speak in conjunction with or individually to various organizations and voters of Darke County. A few repeated questions have come from different conversations.
Question: Why is the proposed levy continuous? Answer: The funding is needed to pay down implementation cost, user fees, replacement cost and then a set aside fund for new technology in the future.
Question: Management of the funds and what all can the levy funds be used for? Answer: The funding from levy would be a separate line item within the county for the purpose of Radio Communications and Communication Equipment.
Question: Why are the commissioners proposing the levy? Answer: As a countywide levy, the commissioners have the ability to place on the ballot, all county Fire, EMS and Law agencies cannot propose a levy for a countywide fund.
Question: Are you, as Chief, in favor of the MARCS Radio system? Answer: Initially, a year or so ago, I was not, now I am. Reason behind my change of thoughts, I was uneducated and unaware of a lot things and was not basing my decision on the whole picture. I was more concerned with implementation cost, the continual user fees and why replace something that is working and does not have a user fee. Through the course of the last year, I have since looked at the entire picture at a county level down to an individual entity. There are expenses that I was unaware of that was not being passed along and divided among county entities. After seeing what the county has been paying for service agreements on the five VHF towers in the county, figures to upgrade current VHF system and figures to replace with new VHF systems, that itself had enough to make me think beyond the VHF System. After being educated, informed and have an understanding of the whole picture, I am in favor of the transition.
In closing. Prior to the November 7 election, I ask you to take the time to get informed and have an understanding of the Issue on the Ballot. If questions arise, please contact members of your local emergency response entities for further explanations.
On Election Day, it is your decision to cast your ballot either way, we as emergency responders of Darke County ask that you make an informed vote based on accurate information in reference to Issue 3 – Countywide Public Safety Communication Systems Expenses. Please consider a favorable vote to help insure Darke County Emergency Responders have the needed communication equipment to continue to provide the same dedicated service as in the past.
Brian Pearson is the chief of the Versailles Fire Department. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.