GREENVILLE — Darke County Commissioners passed a resolution Monday stating that the county would cover a portion of the costs for individual communities to upgrade their emergency communications equipment to the MARCS system, with or without approval of the tax levy on the ballot in November.
County Commissioner Mike Rhoades said the resolution was a result of “lengthy discussions” between Darke County Sheriff Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker and the Commission about how to ease the transition of communities in Darke County to the MARCS system, including ensuring that local first responders have access to MARCS-compatible radios donated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“The resolution is long, and it has a lot of details to it,” said Whittaker. “But at the end of the day, the idea is to put those ODNR radios into play whether the levy passes or not. That’s what’s going to allow us to get our transition over to MARCS up to speed.”
The county agreed to pick up the cost of programming and installing the ODNR radios, as well as to pay user fees for each radio for a period of two years, a combined cost of about $180,000. Without passage of the levy, local fire, EMS, and law enforcement agencies would remain liable for their portion of the $1.9 million needed for all county agencies to upgrade to MARCS.
Commissioners passed the resolution via unanimous vote.
“On behalf of County Public Safety, we appreciate the commissioners doing this,” Whittaker said. “I believe there’s probably a few agencies that would have found the transition extremely difficult, if not impossible, without this opportunity.”
County Commissioner Mike Stegall agreed that the resolution would be a benefit to police, fire, and EMS personnel in communities throughout Darke County.
“This affects every city and every organization around, really,” said Stegall.
Fred Dean, a local concerned citizen and former candidate for County Commissioner who attended the meeting, expressed concerns about community perception of the communications system upgrade and resultant tax levy.
“All along nobody’s said too much about how all this was going to be paid for,” Dean said. “And all of a sudden, now, you’ve went after the public for this money to pay for everything. I know a lot of people were kind of upset when that came up.”
Commissioner Rhoades responded to Dean’s comments.
“This has always been talked about, putting the levy on, since the day we started,” said Rhoades.
Chief Deputy Whittaker further specified that an advisory committee made up of of representatives from police, EMS, and fire departments, as well as township mayors and trustees, unanimously recommended moving to the MARCS system in order to improve communications between local emergency personnel, as well as those in neighboring counties. The committee also recommended placing the levy on the ballot.
“We’re going to meet with the fire, EMS, and police chiefs of each community,” said Whittaker, “over the period of a week or two, in order to educate them about this whole process, including the advantages and disadvantages whether the levy passes or it doesn’t. And we’re going to rely heavily on them to educate their own community, because if the levy passes, the money goes back to them in the form of equipment they would otherwise be responsible for locally.”
“Ultimately,” said Whittaker, “the best ones to sell this levy are the first responders who are going to be using the equipment.”
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