DARKE COUNTY — The failure of Issue 3 to pass muster at the polls now poses a challenge to many municipalities in Darke County.
On Tuesday, more than 57 percent of voters gave a “thumbs down” to the proposed .45-mill levy to fund emergency communications.
“It’s disappointing and concerning for our public safety departments. I do not know if the countywide levy will be revisited in the future but I am fairly confident some departments will see some significant budget issues. We appreciate the support we did receive and the hard work of the committee and departments that worked very hard on this project,” said Mindy Saylor, director of Darke County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency.
While the county’s agencies, such as the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, will be leaving behind VHF radios and transitioning to the state-run MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) by April 16, 2018, other emergency departments in townships and villages getting on board with the MARCS system will need to find the money to fund their own transition down the road — or eventually find themselves unable to communicate with fellow first responders.
Used MARCS mobile and portable radios freely donated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will help ease the transition, as will Darke County’s promise to cover user fees for these radios for two years, but this windfall is far from a long-term solution as the equipment breaks or wears out and needs replaced or repaired.
For example, in September, Versailles Fire Chief Brian Pearson told Versailles Council Members the cost to set up his department on MARCS without passage of the levy would be approximately $63,000, as well as an annual expenditure of approximately $18,000 over a 10-year period for equipment replacement and user fees. Versailles Police Chief Mark Humphreys said his department would likely need to pay a similar amount.
Despite the projected costs to upgrade, Versailles Village Administrator Rodd Hale said Versailles will not be asking its residents to pass a levy.
“While this is a significant expense and will make us change some of our future project plans, we anticipated the possibility the levy would not pass and planned accordingly in our 2018 budget,” he said.
Budgeting also comes into play for the Village of Arcanum.
“We will be bringing this up in our Finance Committee and decide what direction we want to go,” said Arcanum Village Administrator Bill Kessler. “We were waiting to see if this passed or failed before we made any decisions.”
Through previous grant awards, Kessler said Arcanum Fire Department is “not in bad shape” as it regards MARCS radios, but said that department is still seeking MARCS-compatible pagers.
“Our major expense will be on the police department side,” he added.
The levy’s failure also affects the City of Greenville’s Police and Fire Departments.
In an October 3, 2017, letter to Greenville voters, Curt Garrison, Greenville’s safety/service director, stated the city will need to budget $37,000 per year for five years to make the agencies fully operable with new radios. This expenditure comes in addition to the used MARCS radios distributed to the city through the ODNR donation.
“With current projects slated for completion within the [Capital Improvement Plan] fund, the burden of the MARCS radios may cause certain projects to be put on hold or postponed,” he wrote.
Darke County Commissioner Mike Rhoades said the next steps between now and April are yet to be fully determined.
“All the law enforcement, fire and EMS will have those radios,” he said. “Until we get switched over to MARCS, VHF will stay up and running. At that point, the determination will be made by this board as to whether that radio system that we’re using today, which is on its last legs, whether we will keep it going or give it time for the rest of these entities to get their selves in line to get the proper equipment they need to keep moving forward. But as of April 16, the radio for the Sheriff’s Department will be on MARCS.”
Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker said for now the ODNR radios should be enough for law enforcement and EMS in the county to be “functional.”
“It may not be all the radios they would really like to have, but they will be operational,” he said.
While there may be a sufficient number of MARCS portable and mobile radios for the short term, pagers and repeaters are another story, he said.
“The current pagers they have now will not work on MARCS, and that is going to be the biggest challenge, and the biggest financial challenge, for all the agencies,” said Whittaker.
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