County may give new emergency radio towers to the state to save costs

Portage County commissioners agreed last week with county Emergency Management Director Ryan Shackelford’s plan to hand ownership of three proposed MARCS towers to the state once they are built.

The MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communications Systems) towers, each more than 300 feet tall, will replace antiquated Very High Frequency (VHF) radios that some service and safety agencies and departments have been using even though they are limited not only in terms of interdepartmental communication, but also by terrain and distance. 

The new towers will allow more users to send and receive communications simultaneously, Shackelford said.

The three towers will cost an estimated $2 million and be built with federal ARPA funds, Shackelford said, adding that potential revenue from cell phone carriers “piggy-backing” on the towers wouldn’t offset potential upkeep costs.

It is standard practice for the state to take ownership of completed towers because it relieves counties of annual upkeep and unforeseen maintenance needs, he said. Even so, the U.S. Treasury Department has the final say since ARPA funds are involved.

Portage County already has three MARCS towers, all of which are owned by the state. One is in Shalersville, off the Ohio Turnpike and state Route 303; one is on the NEOMED campus in Rootstown; and the third stands atop the Kent State University library. All of them are dedicated to enhancing communications capabilities for safety and service agencies.

In January, The Portager reported that state grants totaling almost $450,000 helped outfit 15 area fire departments with state owned and operated MARCS technology. 

The only question now is where the towers will be built. Shackelford has targeted the northeast section of the county, southeast and southwest. Nothing is solid, as he is still determining feasibility of various sites.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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