By: Timothy Kays
With the adoption of Resolution 1307 on March 22, members of the Montpelier Village Council approved the $63,589.53 purchase of 31 cutting edge radios for the Montpelier Police Department (MPD), committing the village to the soon to be implemented MARCS system.
The subject of a county-wide switchover from the current digital radio communication system to the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) has been a hot topic for well over a year. MARCS offers considerable interoperability advantages that are impossible to attain on the current outdated Williams County radio communication system, but it comes at a price…a steep price. It is the high costs that have drawn great caution from all agencies to be affected by the changeover, a changeover that is necessary due to the obsolescence of the equipment currently in use.
“We’ve had the discussion about MARCS radios for at least a year or year and a half now,” said Village Manager Jason Rockey to the Council, “…and we have the opportunity to purchase some radios on a sale price that expires at the end of the month.”
“(Montpelier Director of Finance) Nikki (Uribes), I, and Chief (Dan) McGee this afternoon discussed that. I also got a call from Commissioner (Brian) Davis, and we talked about this a little bit. What I was afraid of, I didn’t want MPD to be the first agency in Williams County that purchases a whole bunch of radios, and then we’re sitting on a system we can’t use. So we’re trying to get some information on that.”
“The sheriff’s department already has their radios in hand; they are only waiting on installation. They’re ready to go. My understanding is that central dispatch is able to communicate with them. If the company had been available to install radios in the sheriff’s vehicles prior to now, they would be in there and the sheriff’s department would be using them.”
Rockey explained, “The way it will operate between dispatch and officers is not a permanent situation, because there’s equipment that has to be installed at dispatch, but it is adequate.”
“As soon as they’re available, or as soon as they’re installed, the sheriff’s department will have radios in their cars, and they’ll be on the MARCS system. My understanding is that we have pretty good coverage here in Montpelier, and Chief has done some testing along with that. So after having that conversation and also talking with Chief Magee about the research that he’s done in the MARCS, I’m much more comfortable at this hour in making a purchase of some radios for the PD.”
Chief McGee then told Council, “When we went into this changeover of a radio system, we knew upfront was going to be highly expensive, and we wanted to make sure that when we went into it, we were eyes wide open; that we weren’t getting anything that was going to radio us out of being police officers, so to speak.”
“We heard the initial presentation and got some information from that, and then we chose to kind of go off and do our own research because it was presented, in my opinion, very one-dimensional.”
Researching further, McGee found that although Motorola was the most recognized brand name in MARCS transceivers, they were not the only ones out there. J&K Communications, with locations in Columbia City, Fort Wayne, Kokomo and Indianapolis, Indiana, presented Chief McGee the Kenwood line as opposed to Motorola, and quoted a price for portable radios for the officers, and cruiser-mounted mobiles.
“Their price tag was substantially less than what was being presented,” McGee said. “The next question is…do these radios work. Well, Kenwood has been around for ages in the communication game.”
“We found out that there is an Ohio agency that actually changed over all their equipment to the Kenwood consoles, portables and mobiles, and they’re functioning just fine on it. We got Kenwood to give us some test radios, and we did some testing between that and Motorola throughout the town. The school, inside the hospital… just in different spots in Montpelier, and we found no difference between the Motorola or the Kenwood.”
“They both had one malfunction area, and that was in one specific corner, at the lowest spot in the basement in the hospital. They both had the same issue. One of the repeater towers, they call it the Kunkle tower; it’s right off the turnpike, so we’re in a good position, as far as how that radio system will operate for us. There will be no need to have a separate repeater put in Montpelier like there was before. We won’t need to have any of that stuff.”
McGee told Council, “So it came down to what do we want to do when we move forward? Do we want to get on the bus with Motorola, or do we want to get on the bus with Kenwood? When we started breaking down the costs and operations, it was a no brainer to me that we were going to do the Kenwood because at the time, I was going to spend about a third. Now, I think Motorola has saw some things and they’ve made some changes to the pricing, but we’re still going to save probably half cost by going this way.”
“When you look at the basics, just trying to compare apples to apples, it’s a little difficult, but I was able to get a hold of the breakout from Motorola, compared to the breakout from Kenwood. There’s an almost $1,000 price difference, and that’s just per portable, it goes up a little bit more when we’re talking about the mobiles.”
“The big thing for me is if we purchased them now, we’ll end up getting a couple features that I did not ask for that could be good…like a man down button distress button on there; that would be good. GPS capability…that would be good, but I didn’t ask for it.
The other thing that I think is ultra important is; all these radios are software driven. They have licenses that go with them. The Kenwood license is a transferable license, meaning we buy the (Viking Series portable) VP5430; it comes with a license.”
“And then in five years, six years or seven years if we want to go to a different radio, that license will transfer. We don’t have to pay for that again. That’s not true for Motorola; you have to buy a new license for every radio. If I am running after somebody and my radio falls out of the holster and it breaks, we have to buy a license with the replacement radio so we’re talking savings money again.”
“I think that everything that I’ve found, has given us an opportunity to get into this at a substantially less price tag than what if we just jumped on the bus, early on and drove it down the road. What we have to do though is we have to make a decision, because based upon what we just learned is that the system is going to be up and running a lot quicker than what we were informed before.”
“So, if that’s the case, Kenwood has this promo going where some of these features that I was talking about, plus some additional things.”
One of those additional features has to do with Project 25, or P25 compliance. According to the Department of Homeland Security, P25 is a standards development process for the design, manufacture, and evaluation of interoperable digital two-way land mobile radio systems communications products created by and for public safety professionals, which includes the MARCS system.”
“The P25 standard is a critical component to achieve interoperability, the ability of equipment or groups to operate in conjunction with one another, among different suppliers’ products. The P25 CAP (Compliance Assessment Program) provides responders with the confidence that the communications equipment they use has been tested against the standards and successfully tested for interoperability, no matter the manufacturer.
“Everything has to be P25 Phase One compliant,” McGee said. “They’re always moving on to other things. There’s going to be Phase Two; that actually is part of this promo, so these radios that we would purchase would actually be P25 Phase Two compliant as well.”
“That would be added in with this promo. They’re going to give us through this promo about $900 worth of features…that’s per radio. So when you look at what we might spend for just our radios and then add that extra $900 or $1,000 on to it per radio…now you’re closer to $100,000. And then if we chose to get on the Motorola bus, we might be looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $175,000.”
Chief McGee said that his estimate would call for a purchase of 25 portables, plus mobiles for each of the six cruisers. “I don’t think I can come off that too much as far as portables go,” he said.”
“Three of the portables would be issued to the Montpelier Fire Department so that they can communicate directly with the MPD, which according to McGee is something that has not happened since the Fire Department went to its own frequency with the initial digital switchover a few years back.
“There’s a lots of ins and outs to this,” McGee said. “I think probably it’s been a year ago that I came before you and talked about the bear that it was going to be, and guess what…it was the bear that it is.”
“But we’re presented with this opportunity to get these items at I think a very good price; we just have to move on it. I think Mr. Rockey and I both feel much better about moving forward because last week I didn’t even know if this thing was still happening or not.”
Another issue discussed related to the MARCS system is the annual per radio user fees. When the initial discussions of switching over to the MARCS system began back in November of 2019, there was a state-charged annual user fee of $10.00 per radio placed into use on the MARCS system.”
“In a little over a year, that fee has doubled to $20.00 per radio. Councilor Kevin Motter did the math, and said, the annual user fees for the MPD radios alone would be $7,440. “In the grand scheme of things,” he said, “…that’s not that much. My issue is the $20 nickel and dime…that’s a concern to me.” “Over which we have zero control,” Rockey added.
“I don’t want to be nitpicky or sound unsympathetic,” Motter added. “To me, $7,440, when you compare that to a police officer’s life when he needs communication, and he needs help now…it’s not the issue; it’s just a nickel and dime.” “I agree,” McGee answered.
“I agree 100%, and that’s one of the reasons why it was important to test out the radios that we’re asking to buy, because if there was a substantial difference between their operability compared to Motorola, then I’d be in here probably asking you for $150,000, but there isn’t. We have to be good stewards of that money so we’re going after what is appropriate in my opinion.”
After further discussion, Rockey introduced Resolution 1307 to approve the purchase of the MARCS frequency Kenwood radios from J&K Communications for the amount of $63,589.53. Under suspended rules of reading, Council approved the purchase without dissent.
Council then addressed Resolution 1308, allowing for the solicitation of bids for the construction of the NORTA (Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association) trail connector. “This is regarding the County Road 13 NORTA trail connector,” Rockey said, “…the path that’s been proposed to lay along the east side of the roadway off of the pavement for bicyclists, walkers, whoever might need to be able to get safely from the NORTA trail up to Main Street. That was the primary reason for many of the improvements that were made on the bridge a couple of years ago.”
Council suspended the rules of reading to unanimously adopt Resolution 1308.
In other actions, Council heard of the hiring of new full time police patrol officer, Chris Suydam. “He is still in the academy currently,” Rockey reported, “…but it gives us an opportunity to bring him on board and start some of our stage one training.”
“And then once he is fully certified…he’ll already have a leg up on getting his first round of training done.” “(MPD Lieutenant) Darryl (Higbie) and I are both instructors in the academy,” McGee added, “…and had an opportunity to teach and watch this young man.”
“He came to us to get on the Reserves so he could do some rides and learning. We both felt immediately very confident that it was a good decision; he’s a solid young guy. He was in the United States Marines. Kind of a worker, very squared away so we’re feeling pretty positive about him.”
Council retired into executive session for the discussion of the acquisition or sale of property, and personnel. No action was expected to follow upon return to open session.
Tim can be reached at email@example.com