DARKE COUNTY — The Darke County Board of Commissioners received welcome news, learning that it will receive a $500,000 grant from the state to build a MARCS tower in Union City, Ohio.
Darke County Assistant Prosecutor Margaret B. Hayes informed the commissioners that the Local Government Safety Capital Grant had awarded the county it’s request. The county will have to front the money used for the project, but will be reimbursed for $500,000 by the grant. The total cost for the 180-foot tower is estimated at $590,000.
In March, the commissioners approved a resolution to seek funding for a Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) tower to be constructed on land at Union City’s industrial park, near the village’s water tower. Union City has donated the land for the tower’s construction. Ohio MARCS has agreed to donate the structure that will hold the tower’s radio equipment, a backup generator, and a fuel tank for the generator.
Under MARCS, law enforcement, fire and emergency services will transition from traditional VHF communications to the state-operated communications system, making it easier to communicate with other agencies.
All Ohio counties surrounding Darke County are currently using MARCS. As well, neighboring Randolph County in Indiana uses a compatible system. Commissioner Mike Rhoades, who has been heavily involved in the effort to bring the MARCS system to the county’s law enforcement and emergency providers, says the up-front money will be provided through the county’s general fund.
Rhoades, along with Darke County Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker, solicited “memorandums of understanding” from Darke County’s 20 townships, all of which signed on to support the grant request. None of the townships are on the hook for the project’s costs.
Susan Laux of Key Funding Services applied for grant at the commission’s behest, pursuing the maximum request of $500,000 towards the tower’s construction.
Despite the award, the search for funding is not over — the county itself, as well as the various municipalities within the county, will need to procure money to purchase the equipment necessary to fully incorporate all local emergency agencies.
Whittaker said the county has collected estimates on the cost to equip all the agencies, but that the numbers have changed since the project began.
“We don’t have current numbers on what that will be,” he said. “We are in the process of getting updated figures.”
Mindy Saylor, director of Darke County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, also says the search for funding for each agency’s equipment is an ongoing process.
“We have some individual departments and collaborations of multiple departments have started seeking other funding opportunities, and other grants, and other — that’s going to be a piece of the pie,” she said. “We needed this to happen before we could really look at the MARCS system as a viable option.”
Whittaker said once fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies go to the MARCS system, the county’s cost for each radio is $10 per month, or $120 per year. Despite this, the upgrade will save the county money in other ways.
“After we’re finished, we’ll turn over the towers to Ohio MARCS for the state to maintain. There will no longer be a cost for us to maintain them,” he said, noting the county will also be able to drop maintenance costs on its VHF towers.
Both Saylor and Whittaker say Union City is a prime location for the tower, as tests of the MARCS system there showed that portion of Darke County is a communications “dead zone.”
“We knew we did not have good coverage in that area, and without good coverage, it wasn’t going to work,” Saylor said.
Whittaker said the county currently uses five VHF towers, but these, and the radio equipment emergency agencies use, will quickly reach “end of life.”
“In two years from now, we will reach a point where we will have no choice. The system’s not broke today, but in two years it will be. The current technology we have will have to be replaced,” he said.
“It’s only smart for us, as state and federal guidelines are pushing all of us to be inter-operational,” he added.
Saylor said she’s proud of the various people and parties involved in making the grant happen.
“I appreciate Commissioner Rhoades, he really worked hard on it, as did Chief Deputy Whittaker. Everyone just worked really well together,” she said.
“This is something, as a county, we should be proud of,” she explained. “The collaboration and cooperation that it took to get this grant completed and meet the criteria that they wanted, seeing that it was a collaboration of multiple entities. Between the county, the 20 townships, and the Village of Union City, it was quite an accomplishment to get everyone on board, educate everybody and make sure everyone was comfortable with the process and the grant. So I’m pretty proud of our county in general to be able to get all that pulled off in a very short amount of time.”
Saylor said she is not sure when the project will be completed, but is confident the county will find a way to make it happen.
“It’s not anything that we’re going to solve overnight. It’s going to take some more cooperation and hard work, but hopefully it’s something we can work towards and eventually get there,” she said.