Monday, December 1, 2014




Not long ago The Stark County Political Blog did a number of blogs which question whether or not Stark County commissioners (Bernabei, Creighton and Regula), in awarding a nearly $2 million Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) contract to New World will cost Stark County's taxpayers $1 million plus over more or less locally (i.e. Cuyahoga County) available competition.

List of blogs:
Since the publication of those blogs, it has come to light in commissioner meetings that there are indeed savings to be made on aspects of the New World contract by the commissioners not buying certain parts of the CAD or CAD integrally related system that offer some evidence that the SCPR may be onto something in terms of the commissioners not getting the "best bang for the buck" for Stark County taxpayers as they seek to upgrade Stark emergency services capability.

Let the SCPR be clear.  At this stage of the SCPR's ongoing examination of how the county is going about the upgrading, The Report is not suggesting bad motives in what appears to be less than thorough scrutiny of available systems in the context of getting the upgrade done in the most frugal advantage of Stark County taxpayer dollars.s

In addition to the award of the CAD upgrade to New World, Stark County commissioners are looking at (i.e. Thomas Bernabei is spearheading as the chairman of the Stark County Council of Governments (SCOG) executive committee) ways and means of upgrading the county's emergency services two way communication radio system to the best advantage of county taxpayers, and, of course, for the benefit of Stark Countians in need of emergency fire, police and medical services.

In discussing Stark's emergency services radio system, a good beginning point is 9-1-1 CAD Project Manager Joe Concatto's description where Stark County "currently" is on the "fast getting-out-of date" emergency (i.e. fire, police and paramedic services to everyday Stark Countians) radio system.

Here is a video of his remarks to the SCOG executive committee at it regular bi-monthly November 11, 2014 meeting.

In an interview with the SCPR at the end of the same SCOG meeting at which "time is of the essence" impending need for Stark County to upgrade its emergency radio system was discussed, Bernabei revealed that he envisioned that it would take at least $6 million to do the needed radio upgrade before Motorola quits servicing the current system in three, four or so years.

The Stark County Political Report over the nearly seven years of this blog's existence has sat in as a journalist on many public discussions of the radio patchwork that now plagues area fire, police and emergency ambulances services. 

The Report thinks the current deficient radio inter-Stark County communications could be "a disaster in waiting" should a countywide (i.e. involving multiple villages, cities and townships) emergency manifest itself in the county's immediate future.

From all that the SCPR has learned, it seems that:
  • the most responsible way, 
  • the most prudent way, and, in the longer term,
  • the most efficient way 
for Stark to deal with the current helter-skelter, patchwork radio system that potentially could impact negatively on any Stark County resident  is:
But right now that possibility seems to be meeting local government resistance.

Notwithstanding the SCPR's skepticism that the MARCS alternative has countywide fire department, police department and emergency medical forces support, MARCS appears - according to the Bernabei - to be part of the discussion.

The Report thinks MARCS should be more than a discussion.

It seems to be the best and only reliable way to go - going forward.

Any other direction would a major mistake in the making, so the SCPR thinks.

From what sense the SCPR can make of current considerations of which way to go;  many village, city and township officials are thinking about a more localized radio system.

The first preference seems to be a Stark County/Canton city government system.

However, Concatto's $10 to $20 million number is at about the $20 million mark for a Stark County only system.

Involving Stark County agencies of government integrating with a Summit County system might be realistic at $10 millon.

But take a look at what Summit County is saying about its own system: (restructured for clarity sake)

This system is absolutely critical to first responders’ ability to respond to emergency calls quickly and to communicate with each other during a crisis.  

Unfortunately, by the end of 2018:
  • the County must upgrade the system to be P-25 compliant due to advances in technology. 
  • The County has estimate the probable cost to upgrade the system to be:
    • $30.8 million
    •  - $13 million for the network infrastructure, 
    • -$2.7 million for the dispatch consoles and
    • $15.1 million for the radios.
Unfortunately, the County, the City of Akron and most of the other communities in Summit County do not have the funds necessary to upgrade the system. 

Again, without this system, the ability for fire, police and EMS to respond and communicate with each other becomes dangerously difficult. However, the County is proposing to use a portion of Issue 12 [SCPR Note:  which failed in the November 4th election] to fund the needed $30.8 million in upgrades, and to use that money in the future for upgrades that become necessary due to advances in technology. 

Without these funds, cash-strapped communities may have to make further cuts to safety sources in order to keep the system operational.

Take a look at this graphic at what Summit County officials say on their website what the cost of an upgrade could be to Summit County local governments:

The SCPR asks this question.

Is working out a connection with Summit County a likely viable alternative?

To the SCPR, the answer with the failure of Summit's levy is a resounding "no."

The only viable alternatives are going with Ohio's MARCS or for Stark County to go it alone.

The Report's take is that Bernabei's projected $6 million cost to Stark County taxpayers is based on piggybacking onto Ohio's MARCS.  And $6 million is likely too rosy of an expectation.

A year ago or so MARCS personnel approached Stark County (through Concatto) to be "the first of all Ohio counties" to join in with MARCS.

But the likes of Concatto, former SCOG governance board chairman Randy Gonzalez and others within the Stark County fire, police and medical emergency forces community were skittish about doing so and in the end Stark County neglected to pursue and persist which the SCPR thinks was a failure on the part of local safety forces leadership.

The Report thinks "being the first"  was a terrific opportunity which due to conservative Stark County leadership is now "a lost opportunity" to get in on the ground floor perhaps at a cost savings.

Stark County went through one gigantic and horrific financial/fiscal crisis in the period 2010 through 2012.  With the passage of a 1/2 sales tax levy in November, 2011, the county has slowly climbed out of the depths of financial despair.

But in 2019 the levy expires and county officials will have to provide a justification to Stark Countians to continue if not increase the sales tax.

With the looming emergency radio communications problem, the SCPR does not think the county can wait until 2019.

Look for rumblings to begin soon about creating some sort of alternative to the 2011 passed sales tax.

In the Concatto video, note Gonzalez's interest in levy efforts designed to deal with the expense of upgrading radio systems.

As things stand now, The Report sees that "there-is-no-way-in-Hell" that the commissioners can wrestle even $6 million out of current annual county budgeting over the next several years IF the MARCS or Summit County emergency radio infrastructure were used to lessen the cost to Stark County taxpayers.

Remember, $6 million is likely too optimistic of a cost factor to Stark County.

If the county is intent on going alone, it will take millions more and a 1/2 cent sales tax levy is not going to cut it.

It would be a blunder of major proportions for county officials to head in this direction.

Such a measure will not pass in Stark County and to embark on such a path would be lost time in integrating with MARCS during which Stark better be lucky in not experiencing a local emergency catastrophic-esque event.

The SCPR sees evidence that county commissioners have gone on a "spending spree" over the past year or so.

The point?

Stark County putting aside $6 million over the next few years to use in upgrading the county's radio system in light of the spending spree seems to be a pipe dream, no?

Without going back to examining the "crossed-t's" and the "dotted i's," the commissioners have - so the SCPR thinks - made a series of questionable expenditures.

To name a few:
  • Hiring both a county administrator and a county budget director to replace Mike Hanke who did both jobs,
  • Hiring of an attorney (David Bridenstine) mostly for the commissioners themselves but with some spill over to other county departments who need tailored legal services,
  • Hiring of a Human Resources Director who has limited authority to deal with hiring, firing and related matter within departments of county government managed by independent (of the commissioners) elected officials, and
  • the purchase at the cost of nearly $3,000 of two monitors for placement in the Stark County commissioners meeting room not because they were essential, but because they are convenient.
Again, the list includes "only a few" of such expenditures.

Unfortunately, in last month's election, Republican commissioner Janet Creighton ran unopposed.

She should have had to answer questions on county government operations and capital expenditures (of which there are many) put to her by a Democratic Party opponent.

But former Dems chairman Gonzalez "apparently" was unable to recruit anybody to run.

Gonzalez is a guy who likes to tout himself in having been a public servant, one who has been well compensated - to be sure.

Not finding someone to run against Creighton is hardly a public service.

Commissioners Bernabei and Creighton were - on being originally elected - in November, 2010 "a breath of fresh air."

It is now appearing more and more to the SCPR that they are drifting towards the kinds of commissioners Stark County used to have.

Our government system is "a check and balance" system that relies on political competition, inquiring journalists and everyday citizens putting the tough questions to our leaders.

So the final question of today's blog - which Commissioner Bernabei was unable to answer- is where is the $6 million coming from in "a best case scenario," and "in a worse case scenario," where will Stark County find possibly needed millions more ($4 to $14 million) for a state-of-the-art "emergency" radio system?

The discussion concerning the radio upgrade has all the ingredients of turning into an unnecessarily expensive fiasco for Stark County taxpayers.

Heads up, Stark Countians!

A financial bath could be in your future.

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