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. ———————————————————————— Fairfield Police officer Scott Webb displays his radio outside the police station, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. Butler County officials and police and fire departments across the county are looking at a $19.2 million price tag to replace parts of the 800 MHz communications systems, including the radios first responders carry.GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County fire departments lock in discounted emergency radios

Liberty Twp. signed an agreement last week that sets the price but becomes moot if the grant comes through. All the jurisdictions that have made deals with Motorola must purchase the radios from the communications equipment giant if the federal grant doesn’t come through, but if it does, the departments will have to put the radios out for bid.

The other jurisdictions involved in the grant application are: the cities of Hamilton, Middletown, Monroe, Oxford and Trenton and the townships of Hanover, Madison, Milford, Morgan, Oxford, Reily, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne. If successful in receiving the grant, the departments would only have to pay 10 percent of the radios’ cost.

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

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said the federal grant application process should open soon, and the funding will be awarded in 2020. The departments hired a grant writer to help with the application.

Hamilton is the largest jurisdiction involved, and Fire Chief Mark Mercer said the city has already secured the discount price with Motorola for fire only at $267,948 for 50 portable radios and 19 mobile units.

Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said he is working on a deal with Motorola that will likely cost $350,000-plus without the grant.

“The city of Middletown Division of Fire will be providing a letter of intent to purchase radios and locking in the current pricing for the purchase in the near future,” Lolli said. “The city of Middletown has committed funds to this process by budgeting monies for the Division of Police in the 2019, 2020, budgets, and beyond.”

About 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 covered 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 and purchased the new equipment. They are: Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Middletown (police radios only), Miami University, New Miami, Trenton (police and public works) and West Chester Twp.

Ross Twp. bought three Kenwood model radios earlier this year for the police department for $5,000. Fire Chief Steve Miller said he needs to talk to Motorola about what can be done if there is no grant money. He said he believes the township would need 48 portable and 13 mobile radios. Applying the Liberty Twp. price, that would be over $200,000.

“Bottom line is we haven’t made a decision on what radio style we would go with at this time,” he said. “The only thing that worries me is locking ourselves into something we can’t afford to lock into.”

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