MAHONING COUNTY Lack of cash kills radio plan

Officials might try using homeland security funds to upgrade equipment.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A $41 million proposal to overhaul Mahoning County's aging emergency radio communication system has apparently died.
The cause of death: prolonged shortage of cash.
"That's done," said Commissioner David Ludt. "There's no money to pay for it, so it's not going to happen."
But Ludt and Walter Duzzny, emergency management agency director, said there have been improvements made in the communication system just the same, at a significantly lower cost. And Duzzny said he's looking into whether more, smaller-scale improvements might eventually be made using Homeland Security grants.
Commissioners hired an Illinois consulting firm in 2002 to conduct a comprehensive survey of all police and fire radio systems in the county and make recommendations for necessary upgrades.
In March 2003, the company recommended $41 million worth of improvements and changes, including construction of a new, centralized communications center.
The report also recommends replacing some old transmission towers with taller ones, adding new towers to improve radio coverage, and buying new radio equipment.
Area police and fire chiefs had complained that their radios don't work in some parts of the county because the signal is too weak, which could isolate them and cause problems during an emergency.
But Ludt said the county's budget has no room for such expenditures.
"If money becomes available in the future then maybe this will come back up, but I don't see that happening," Ludt said.
In the meantime, Ludt said the communication gap has been bridged somewhat with the purchase of a new mobile command vehicle for use by the EMA.
"[Duzzny] should be able to communicate with everybody in the county," Ludt said.
Duzzny said the $159,000 vehicle, purchased with federal Homeland Security funds, is activated during emergencies and is capable of receiving and transmitting radio signals all over the county. It's also equipped to link police and fire departments through cellular telephone signals.
"That opens up a whole new vista of what we can do with our current equipment," said Duzzny, who is in charge of the county's emergency radio system.
Duzzny said he's looking into whether Homeland Security funds might eventually be used to upgrade radio towers and buy other communication equipment.
"All this electronic stuff gets old and needs replacing. There just has not been the money so far to get it done," he said.

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