Wayne looks into MARCS for public safety

Cost remains a factor for public safety forces who are considering what radios would be best to use, and the state made it a little easier on finances with the latest budget passed this summer.

During a state budget briefing Monday, John Leutz, legislative counsel for the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, said the budget provides $2 million in each of the next two fiscal years to reduce or eliminate fees paid by Tier 1 subscribers for the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System.

When State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers was in town to talk about MARCS, he spoke about how the state was looking to cut subscriber/user fees from $20 per month per radio to $10 or even less.

Wayne County's first responders have been in discussions about where to go. Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Villegas is heading up a committee of law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel from around the county to look into whether MARCS is the solution to the aging system here.

Those who use MARCS, like agents from the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency and the State Highway Patrol, give the system high marks. However, it comes at a cost. The radios have been more expensive, though the costs are coming down, and there is the monthly user fee.

There are about 1,300 radios in use in Wayne County among law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel. At $10 per radio each month, user fees will total about $13,000 monthly and $156,000 annually. Each department would pay the user fees for its radios.

Another way the state is working to reduce costs for MARCS is through the State Fire Marshal's Office. There are grants available for MARCS users to pay the access fees. Flowers said the counties who received the grants were those where all of the fire departments were on board with using MARCS. Previously, Wayne County submitted a grant application, but only 10 of 17 fire departments applied. The application was denied.

"It would be good for everyone in Wayne County, but we have to get everyone on board," Commissioner Jim Carmichael said.

Ashland County Commissioner Barb Queer said the money approved to cut the MARCS user fees will help.

As for what happens next for Wayne County's public safety infrastructure and equipment, the committee will continue to meet and discuss the issue, Villegas said. Right now, the members want to get a handle on what the actual costs will be for radio equipment.

Villegas facilitated a discussion in Wooster on July 14 about the future of the radio and communications system here. The commissioners are putting their support in MARCS, despite having concerns previously. After a comprehensive study of the communications system was done, Commissioner Ann Obrecht said it became obvious it would be too costly to try to repair and MARCS seemed to be the best solution.

While MARCS has been well received, generally, by the committee, Villegas said there is still some skepticism. Some committee members also wanted to know how committed the commissioners are to the project.

The fact they are willing to invest a significant amount to build out two towers, it could cost up to $600,000, and they are looking at a third tower in northeastern Wayne County says a lot about their commitment, Villegas said.

There is another avenue for money, potentially. There are public safety grants that will be available, however, Villegas said there has not been much guidance regarding the application process. However, he believes applicants should be able to use the money for MARCS.

By BOBBY WARREN @the-daily-record.com

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