Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Youngstown council will consider Wednesday the purchase of a new police and fire radio system

Published: 4/4/17 @ 12:05

By David Skolnick



City council will consider legislation Wednesday to move ahead with the purchase a new police and fire radio system.

The system would cost about $1.7 million with an additional $200,000 or so in interest as it will be paid over 10 years, said Police Chief Robin Lees.

But spending about $190,000 annually for a decade, he said, would be a cost savings for the city as it’s currently paying about $350,000 a year to AT&T for maintenance of copper lines used for the existing emergency system, which is analog. AT&T’s fee has increased by about 167 percent since 2014, he said.

The new microwave- radio setup, to be purchased through Motorola, would improve coverage, particularly when officers are inside buildings, Lees said.

“The city can afford it by saving about $350,000 a year and paying about $190,000 for a new system that will be good for decades,” he said. “The system we have now is beginning to deteriorate. To replace the equipment would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we’d still have an old system and still have to pay AT&T.”

Lees said he wants the police and fire radio system to be encrypted, meaning radio traffic wouldn’t be accessible to the public or the media without a special radio receiver, which costs about $3,000. The media typically monitors scanners for police and fire calls.

A final decision hasn’t been made, but Mayor John A. McNally said he would follow Lees’ recommendation on encryption, also called scrambling.

The system could be installed as early as June, Lees said. City council will consider Wednesday authorizing the board of control to enter into a contract with Motorola.

Some criminals listen to police traffic, Lees said.

“The ability to encrypt will be a benefit on many levels,” he said. “The most important is officer safety. The movement of officers is something we don’t want to broadcast. Broadcasting your approach could put [an officer] in a more compromising position.”

Also, he said, officers would be able to give out personal information – such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers – about victims and suspects using an encrypted system. That is currently done either via cellphones or using computers in police cruisers.

Campbell and Boardman are among local police departments that use encryption radio systems.

Officials with the Ohio Civil Liberties Union and the national Society of Professional Journalists said in a Vindicator article published Sunday about Campbell’s system that encryption is acceptable in certain instances, but shouldn’t be a routine practice for police departments.

Meanwhile, council will consider three ordinances Wednesday to spend about $13.7 million to make electrical equipment purchases and improvements to its wastewater treatment plant on Poland Avenue. It’s part of a $148 million agreement the city has with the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection agencies to improve its wastewater system and eliminate many combined storm and sanitary sewer overflows.

The plant’s electric system hasn’t been upgraded since the 1980s, and the work will take about a year to get done, said Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works.

Council also will vote on a resolution objecting to Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to have the state process and distribute business profit taxes levied by Youngstown and other cities, villages and counties. Municipalities currently do it themselves.

Kasich’s proposed budget bill calls for the state to make the collections for a 1 percent fee as a way to generate state revenue.

That amount would have been about $40,000 last year for Youngstown, which is projecting a general-fund shortfall next year of up to $2.5 million.

While it wouldn’t be good for Youngstown to lose any money it collects, McNally said his bigger concern is the business profit tax would be just the start and the state then would want to start collecting income tax. One percent of that amount would have been about $360,000 in 2016.

The city receives a 2.75 percent income tax on those who work and/or live in the city and that same percentage from profits made by businesses in Youngstown.

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