Butler County taxpayers are due an estimated $1.5 million refund from Motorola for extra emergency responder radios, and local jurisdictions are hoping to get a federal grant to cover the cost of their radio replacements.
Last summer, 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 has stopped making the old radios and won’t service them beyond this year. Some 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.
Without the full countywide replacement, the sheriff and commissioners were able to cut the bill in half for replacement of the system infrastructure, 750 radios the county needed and 250 extra for the other jurisdictions. County Administrator Charlie Young told the commissioners this week they are due an estimated $1.5 million refund on the $10 million contract for the radios they are returning.
“This is good news for the taxpayers of Butler County,” Young said.
Earlier this summer, Fairfield Twp. Fire Chief Tim Thomas said many of the smaller fire departments exist on “pancake breakfast budgets” and can’t even afford nominal replacement costs, so the Butler County Fire Chiefs Association has been doing its due diligence, testing cheaper Motorola models and radios made by Kenwood.
Now they are working on submitting a federal Assistance to Firefighters grant to cover some of the cost for radio replacement. Oxford Fire Chief John Detherage said they are in the very early stages of developing a grant submission but about a dozen fire departments are on board with the fund-raising effort. It’s too early to know how much money they will need to ask for but he said he believes there is a required local match.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded 2,002 grants in 2017 and the highest amount was $3.8 million to the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District for personal protection equipment. There was a 10 percent match or $366,000 on that award. The FEMA website notes that approximately $315 million will be awarded to an estimated 2,500 fire agencies in the next grant cycle.
Detherage said the jury is still out on whether the group might switch to the Kenwood radios, which are compatible with the county’s new system.
“There’s still no verdict yet, we’re still playing with them,” Detherage said. “Since nobody’s in a big hurry to buy, we’re just kind of taking our time and passing them around so everybody is getting a chance to play with them. I’ve heard good things and bad things about them, just like the Motorolas.”
The county got it’s radios half price from Motorola and that rate will be good to the other jurisdictions through the end of the year. Sheriff’s Capt. Matt Franke said the county was able to save about $100 per unit renegotiating the prices again, so law enforcement radios with holsters and microphones cost about $3,973, and devises for fire and medical personnel cost $4,064 because they need a different microphone. The prices included a $500 trade-in. The actual price the jurisdictions pay can vary depending on the accessories they buy, Franke said, but the base radio price is $3,683.
The Kenwood base price — with no accessories like microphones and chargers — was $2,324 for one to 499 radios and $2,224 for 500 or more, according to Thomas.
Miami University and New Miami are the only jurisdictions that have funded a full replacement. Fairfield is in the approval process of purchasing 12 radios for the police department at a cost of $51,332.
Franke said he has been in talks with four police departments and one or two fire departments considering radio purchases before the end of the year. Those communities would have to buy directly from Motorola — since the county already returned the 250 extra units it had — but the contract price will be honored.
Commissioner Don Dixon said he applauds the other jurisdictions for potentially finding a cheaper alternative and for looking for outside funding, but the county really didn’t have that option.
“The only thing we can do is rely on who uses them and what their needs are….” Dixon said. “All the reasons that the sheriff’s recommendation was that it be that particular model or brand made a lot of sense… We relied on him and he hasn’t taken us in the wrong direction yet.”
The commissioners back in 2005 put a 50-cent temporary sales tax to pay for the entire system and the 800 MHz system went into operation at the end of 2008. The commissioners prepaid about $3 million of the total $4.5 million bill for the 1,000 radios in January, saving about $78,000 in interest. The rest of the money came from general fund carryover and $2.1 million out of the sheriff’s 2017 budget.