MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners are waiting on approval from American Electric Power for permission to use its tower north of Shelby before moving forward with a new county-wide digital emergency radio system.
Commissioners met Tuesday morning with Richland County Sheriff's Office Maj. Joe Masi and Capt. Jim Sweat, who told the elected officials they are confident AEP will approve a request to share the tower that would allow for implementation of the state-developed Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS).
But the approval -- which would save the county $800,000 by not having to build its own tower in the northern part of the county -- is not yet official. The sheriff's department administers the county 9-1-1 emergency telephone system.
The project was discussed with commissioners in December. Sweat said he believes the timing of the holidays and vacations has delayed official approval, which he said could come within the next couple of weeks.
"They have several locations where they co-share equipment and it's pretty standard practice between them and MARCS to co-share and utilize each other's towers for their projects," Sweat said. "It's not something where they have to start from scratch."
The county already has a tower near Lucas.
Commissioners have set aside $775,000 in their 2020 capital improvement budget for the project, which would include $300,000 for equipment on each tower and $124,000 for three back-up repeaters.
Sweat said Tuesday the funds for the repeaters could be deferred until 2021. The MARCS system currently has three towers in Richland County, located at 3240 Ohio 430, one mile north of Mansfield on Ohio 13 and 6469 Garber Road in Bellville.
Township fire departments around Richland County individually applied and have been authorized a total of about $550,000 in grants through the state fire marshal's office for equipment they will need for the upgrade.
During the meeting in December, Madison Township Fire Chief Ron Luttrell told commisioners the change to MARCS from the current VHF system would increase coverage and reliability and also improve the ability of departments to communicate with one another.
The current system was installed in 1990.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners delayed action on a request from the sheriff's department to add $30,000 to the capital fund for new cruisers. Commissioners had approved $220,000 in the 2020 budget and Masi said an additional $30,000 would allow the purchase of five vehicles, instead of four.
Commissioners said they would wait to see if AEP approves the tower usage before approving the additional funds.