Butler County OKs $10 million for emergency communications upgrade

  • Denise Callahan
  • Staff Writer
2:19 p.m Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 Butler County

Commissioners have approved a $10 million deal with Motorola for an upgrade of Butler County’s emergency responder communications system.

The original price tag was $19.2 million to replace infrastructure and about 3,100 radios used by police and firefighters. The new agreement is for an estimated $5.5 million for the infrastructure and 1,000 radios.

Local jurisdictions are responsible for replacing their own radios and there will be 350 radios available under the sheriff’s new contract for those who want to purchase now. The negotiated price will be good for six months for those that might need to defer, according to County Administrator Charlie Young.

“The county stepped out on a limb a little bit to buy these additional radios,” Young said. “They did so in order to obtain a greater discount than we could otherwise attain, in recognition that several local jurisdictions have already indicated that they have planned for and intend to fund the purchase of radios.”

Some, like West Chester Twp., have said they would replace their radios on an as needed basis.

Dennis Dick, the township’s Communications Center operations manager, said he is not recommending a full replacement at this time. He likened it to the fact General Motors no longer makes Pontiacs, but you still see them on the roads.

“Obviously we’ll replace radios on an as-needed basis, we always planned for that to some extent,” Dick said. “But to just carte blanche say we’re going to replace every radio, we don’t feel that that’s needed for West Chester at this time.”

In 2005, Butler County approved a temporary sales tax levy to upgrade the county’s communications system. Now, Motorola, the provider of Butler County’s equipment, doesn’t make the radios anymore. And beginning in 2019, the company won’t service the radios anymore.

The bill came as a surprise to several jurisdictions earlier this summer and some were under the impression the county would cover all of the expenses. Fairfield was one of a few jurisdictions to anticipate and budget for the expense.

Commissioner Don Dixon said part of the reason the county could make this investment was because of Sheriff Richard Jones.

“This is substantially a lot less money than what we anticipated and what we were told to begin with,” Dixon said. “The sheriff stepped up and through the increased boarding of prisoners and working with the courts, has pledged an extra $1 million a year for the next five years. That covers a lot of the expenditures… I think the sheriff deserves a lot of credit for stepping up.”

Some had suggested the county put on another temporary sales tax to cover the enormous bill but the commissioners refused to even entertain that notion.

Butler County Sheriff’s Major Mike Craft said the county did not have an option in the equipment replacement.

“The important part that people need to understand is that we’re not buying a new toy,” Craft told the Journal-News. “This is not a toy, this is a mandated upgrade that has to happen because the system won’t be in operation anymore. It’s like anything else in this world in technology, like your phone, you only get so long.”

Young said the county has options for paying the $10 million bill but will likely use reserves to pay it up front but the commissioners will only be on the hook for about $8.5 million, after they are reimbursed by jurisdictions who purchase the new equipment.

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