The next step in Wayne County’s plan to improve emergency radio communications will likely cost more than a quarter of a million dollars, and that just gets the county to the point of being able to start making the needed improvements.

Matthew Cain, the county’s Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Communications director, presented commissioners a proposal from Ritter Strategic Services, a consulting firm owned by county council member Barry Ritter. The proposal explores options RSS presented to commissioners and council members Jan. 17 to develop costs and needs.

The cost is $261,000 if the county includes a $15,000 step to include independent system verification of the final solution.

“To find what our options cost, we have to spend a quarter of a million dollars?” said Commissioner Mary Anne Butters. “Wow.”

The money would come from the $1.5 million budgeted for the project in the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program strategic investment plan. EDIT money was used for the assessment because HELP’s SIP had not been approved. The county could then, if needed to complete the project, allocate some of its uncommitted American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

The one-time ARPA money provides the county an opportunity to fix long-known radio coverage problems, especially in the northeast and southwest parts of the county. Cain said the costs have prevented the upgrade before. The county’s law enforcement agencies have switched to an 800 megahertz system with state assistance.

RSS recommended the county convert a current very high frequency (VHF) tower at the highway department west of Centerville to an 800 megahertz tower to fill gaps in current radio coverage. The report compiled after a system assessment does include other options.

During the proposed next step, RSS would evaluate exactly what’s necessary for the options and the resulting costs. For example, it would analyze whether a new tower is needed or the current tower can be refurbished, what equipment would be necessary and how many new radios the county’s 12 volunteer fire departments would need to switch from VHF to an 800 megahertz system.

The details of the work plan and what tasks, subcontractors or equipment would require the large dollar amount have not yet been made public. There was no discussion of soliciting project bids from other vendors.

Cain said he’s warned the volunteer fire departments for years that the switch to 800 megahertz was inevitable.

Commissioners Brad Dwenger and Jeff Plasterer both said that the new proposal’s work is necessary and the county has to move forward; however, commissioners delayed a decision on the RSS proposal. That gives Ron Cross, the county attorney, time to review it and provides commissioners a chance to discuss the expenditure with county council members.

Staff meeting

During a quarterly meeting with department heads and elected officials, commissioners discussed a variety of topics.

To meet state requirements, the county is developing internal controls policies for departments that receive, handle and/or disperse money. Action steps have been created to address deficiencies identified by the state. The project also will include required employee training.

The county pays $4,000 annually for a Guard 911 phone application that enables employees to quickly report incidents to 911. The system alerts 911 without the employee making a call and simultaneously notifies employees within the government campus plus on- and off-duty law enforcement personnel. It can be used to summon security, as well, without a full emergency response.

Few employees have the updated app on their phones to take advantage of the system. Employee training would be necessary to make the app system useful again.

Steve Higinbotham, the county’s director of facilities and development, presented the new employee parking plan that will take effect during February. It assigns employees to specific parking lots and utilizes color-coded hang tags to identify where a vehicle should be parked.

The idea is to create more public parking in the courthouse/annex complex. There will be 26 public spaces in the center two rows of the lot south of the annex building, plus four public handicap spaces and one space reserved for a veteran in the row nearest the building. There will be 13 public spaces and three public handicap spaces along Fourth Street. Those spaces will be on both sides of the street in a section south of the courthouse front door and immediately west of the annex building.

The public also may use the west parking lot across Third Street from the courthouse and any available street parking spots.

Bridge bid award

Brumbaugh Construction of Arcanum, Ohio, was selected from four bidders to replace the deck of the Brick Church Road bridge over Pronghorn Run.

The $280,000 bid was less than the engineer’s estimate, according to Brandon Sanders, the county engineer.

Health board

Commissioners appointed Mark Broeker and Dr. Jim Swonder to the Wayne County Board of Health to replace members who have resigned.

Broeker fills Bob Coddington’s spot, and Swonder replaces Dr. Jon Igelman. They were among five recommendations the health board forwarded to commissioners.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 31 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.