Stark County Sheriff George Maier and other speakers said the new radio system will allow more seemless communication throughout the county, saving lives. The purchase was possible after voters approved a sales tax renewal.

CANTON  Top law enforcement and fire officials attended a ceremony Monday at the Stark County Sheriff's Office to celebrate the recent launch of the new $12 million countywide radio system.

Jackson Township police, Perry Township police and the Regional Emergency Dispatch Center will begin using the new Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) by Friday, said Sheriff George Maier, who added that more than 2,500 county units are connected.

Nearly every police and fire department in the county will use the system, which allows them all to communicate in real time with each other and other emergency responders in the state.

Stark County Sheriff Maj. Darryl Anderson, who oversaw the planning and implementation for Maier, said Stark County's 28 fire departments, 25 police departments, the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority, four health departments, nearly every school district, several Canton departments, the Stark County Engineer, the Stark County Dog Warden's office and local hospitals are connected.

Anderson said Motorola has committed to providing technical support for the radio system until June 2039.

The sheriff's office began transitioning to MARCS around Dec. 20 after three years of planning, testing, upgrading radio towers and putting together financing.

That involved obtaining voters' approval in May 2017 of an eight-year renewal of the county's 0.50 percent sales tax to cover debt repayments over 10 years, obtaining short-term bank financing and selling low-interest 10-year bonds to provide the upfront cash.

New connections

Maier said the radio system "increases the public safety to a level we have not had in Stark County in many, many years. ... A few years ago, we were challenged with an end of life system, communications system throughout the county. And at that time, many of us could not communicate with each other. We could communicate, but it was old and fragmented way of communication. ... Today is really a celebration of a beginning for us with the Stark MARCS system."

Richard Schmahl, director of MARCS, said it's the nation's largest public safety radio system with 120,000 radios used by 2,800 agencies across Ohio. 

"But when you have a response just up here at the airport. Or during the Hall of Fame ceremonies. People from all over the state need to come in to assist. Everybody's going to be able to talk," Schmahl said.

"You're going to be able to communicate. What's that do? It saves lives. It makes your jobs safer, more efficient and also as the sheriff said, it's a big cost savings to the taxpayer. Because you don't have to come up with hodgepodge ways of being able to try and back each other up and being able to get on the same page at these emergencies."

Reaction

Jackson Township Police Chief Mark Brink said, "This is going to make it so we do our job better. If you had told me 20 years ago that I could talk to OSP (Ohio Highway Patrol) on the same radio that I was carrying I would have said there's no way."

He recounted the skepticism many in law enforcement had that the system would work, especially in a rural area with what was weak radio coverage. And he recalled the death of Massillon police officer Eric Taylor, killed in 2002 by a motorist being pursued by an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper. The incident demonstrated how the Patrol had no way to communicate in real time with local police departments.

Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula recalled when he, his late father and then-Congressman Ralph Regula and then-Sheriff Tim Swanson met to discuss putting together a countywide radio system. Regula said when he was a Navarre councilman, Navarre police and Bethlehem Township fire used different radio systems so they couldn't communicate in real time. Ralph Regula arranged a federal earmark of millions of dollars to cover the cost of providing more than 1,500 radio units that could communicate with each other on the county's radio network to local emergency responders.

But Brink said many emergency responders placed the units on a shelf and did not widely deploy them.

Anderson said Motorola accepted some of those radio units in return for a $1,000 trade-in value per radio unit, resulting in an net cost of $2,800 per unit. Some agencies spent about $500 to upgrade those units arranged by former Congressman Regula so they could be used with the MARCS system.

Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP.