Many police and fire agencies across Butler County eschewed the county’s $10 million replacement contract with Motorola in favor of a wait and see approach. Several departments have been testing Kenwood radios as a cheaper alternative and now the fire chiefs are seeking a grant to cover the cost. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County departments seeking $2M to aid emergency radio replacement

Liberty Twp. is the “host” fire department for a grant application to buy the radios, and Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said officials hope the joint effort will help secure the money.

“Statistically speaking the AFG looks at regional grants more favorably than they do individual jurisdictional grants,” Klussman said. “That’s why we are coming together to do this, to try and increase our chances of being awarded a grant.”

Klussman said officials are still getting quotes from Motorola and Kenwood for radio pricing, but they estimate they will be asking for $1.75 to $2.25 million for 340 handheld and 175 mobile radios.

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Almost two years ago, the county faced a $19.2 million bill to replace the obsolete public safety communications system and about 3,000 radios that sheriff’s deputies, police, firefighters and others all carry. Motorola stopped making the old radios and wouldn’t service them beyond 2018.

Most local cities, townships and other jurisdictions balked at the $12.5 million radio bill — the county’s share was estimated at $3.5 million — and began looking for cheaper alternatives. The remainder of the cost would cover infrastructure of the system.

The county negotiated a $10 million agreement for its needs and a half-price deal with Motorola for other jurisdictions. When county officials learned last year a 2021 software upgrade could produce “critical failures” in the old radios, several jurisdictions agreed to the bulk upgrade. They are: Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Middletown (police radios only), and West Chester Twp. Miami University and New Miami have either bought bulk replacements or negotiated deals to take advantage of the price.

Butler County Sheriff’s Capt. Matt Franke said after so many jurisdictions started buying in bulk, the group was able to get the price break, which was good through 2018 and extended to the end of this year.

“Motorola is still selling radios at the exact same price,” Franke said. “We got them to commit and they extended the price through this calendar year. I think they underestimated our ability to move the radios.”

The Liberty Twp. trustees were poised to sign a memorandum of understanding with 14 other fire departments Tuesday to begin the grant application process. Those other jurisdictions are: the cities of Hamilton, Middletown, Monroe, Oxford, Trenton and Hanover and Madison, Milford, Morgan, Oxford, Reily, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne townships.

Hamilton, the largest jurisdiction in the county, needs about 200 radios for police and fire, according to Executive Director of Public Safety Scott Scrimizzi. He is estimating it will cost $900,000 to $1 million if the grant application is rejected.

He said although his capital improvement budget is stretched to the limit, the city won’t jeopardize its citizens.

“We know there is a software change coming in 2021 that could affect the performance of our radios,” Scrimizzi said. “We are not going to take that chance. We will have new radios by 2021.”

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