MANSFIELD -- A planned new 300-foot tower as part of Richland County's new county-wide digital emergency radio system could also help improve cell phone usage in the southeastern part of the county.
Richland County commissioners on Thursday morning approved $150,000 for engineering/site studies for the tower, as well as the construction of a shelter at the site to house equipment.
The new tower will likely be built on Village of Lucas property at the dead end of South Union Street, where a 90-foot tower is now located, according to Richland County Sheriff's Dept. Capt. Jim Sweat.
He said the tower could be operational by this summer and could improve radio communications beyond the Lucas area, including the area south of Mansfield near Interstate 71.
It's the fifth tower in the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) digital radio system conversion in Richland County, improving communication and cooperation among law enforcement agencies and township fire departments.
The MARCS system currently has four towers in Richland County, located at 3240 Ohio 430; one mile north of Mansfield on Ohio 13; 6469 Garber Road in Bellville; and near the intersection of Ohio 61 and Dinninger Road north of Shelby.
A $400,000 state capital improvement grant will fund construction of the tower itself, according to Commissioner Darrell Banks, who credited then-State Rep. Mark Romanchuk for helping secure the money.
Hull and Associates, LLC, from Newark, Ohio, will handle the engineering and site design/study work, according to Sweat, for between $40,000 and $50,000. The shelter will cost around $100,000 he said.
"The entire county share of the cost for this tower will be $150,000, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars less than initially anticipated," Sweat said, adding that MARCS believes it can procure the radio equipment for the tower.
Sweat said the plan is to build a tower strong enough to accommodate the radio equipment and also equipment from a cell phone provider.
Commissioner Tony Vero asked that Sweat reform a group in Lucas that could help expedite the inclusion of a cell phone company. The typography of the area often makes cell phone connections difficult, he said.
"Let's get these parties back together," Vero said. "This could be a huge win for the area, if we can improve that cell phone coverage. I have sat in the middle of (Lucas) Village Hall for a meeting and had my phone tell me 'No Service.' Let's restart that group real quick."
Also on Thursday, commissioners:
-- approved an agreement with Spectrum to provide 17 cable boxes for the sheriffs department in the new 9-1-1 dispatch center and the patrol area in the People's Community Center at 597 Park Ave. East. The agreement also includes boxes for the county Emergency Management Agency and will cost $170.82 per month for the 17 units.
"We are not talking about HBO here," Sweat said. "This is for standard, basic cable that will allow us to view weather channels and follow current events from media outlets."
Sweat said the new 9-1-1 dispatch center should be "up and functioning" in March.
-- approved the transfer of 4.02 acres of vacated park land near the Walnut Hills Swim Club in Washington Township to the Richland County Land Bank. Commissioners said the plan was for the Land Bank to then sell the property to the swim club for future use.
-- approved adjustment of payments for attorneys appointed to represent indigent residents charged with aggravated murder and murder to $75 per hour, which will allow for easier reimbursement by the Ohio Public Defender's Office. Due to a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision, commissioners also approved payment of $65 per hour for attorneys appointed to represent indigent parents facing loss of parental rights in Richland County Probate Court.