NEW PHILADELPHIA — Commissioners say a 0.5-percent temporary sales tax increase on the May 8 primary ballot is an investment in "an emergency safety net for every individual in Tuscarawas County."

Money raised by the two-year sales tax would be used to fund purchase of an $11.6 million radio system for law enforcement and first responders to replace the current system, which will reach its end of life on Dec. 31.

"This is something that touches every individual, all 92,000 people in the county," said Commissioner Chris Abbuhl. "I want to know that if I have an emergency at my home and I call 911, I know that number's going to get through and that I'm going to get a first responder there to help me. Nobody ever wants to have to call 911, but it they do, we can be secure in knowing that we've got a good system in place that's going to be able to get a first responder there for an emergency."

Commissioner Joe Sciarretti noted that having the 911 system in place is important for the county's most vulnerable residents, including senior citizens.

If approved, the tax would be collected from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2020, when it would expire.

The current radio system last was upgraded in 2005.

"We call it end of life," Commissioner Kerry Metzger said. "It's still going to continue to operate. But the main concern that we have and what we've been told is that you are assuming greater and greater risk of outages because of not being able to find a piece of equipment to replace it. It's how much risk do you want to assume?"

Tuscarawas County has signed an 11-year agreement with Motorola for upgrading the system equipment and software, and purchasing 1,200 radios for the county and local fire and police departments. The system will be installed by Staley Technologies of New Philadelphia.

The county will be joining the state system, which is called MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communications System). The county owns six towers that are used to transmit radio traffic. By joining MARCS, the county will gain access to six state towers, five of them located in areas just outside the county.

"This will double the number of towers we'll be able to bounce signals off," Metzger said.

The project costs include:

n $8.3 million for Motorola equipment upgrade.

n $810,640 for the sheriff's office to equip the 911 center.

n $2.5 million for MARCS fees and upgrades, connections and automatic upgrades to the system.

None of the money raised by the sales tax can be used to pay salaries or benefits at the 911 center.

Metzger pointed out that because the project will be funded through a sales tax, residents outside the county will share in paying the cost.

"The residents of Tuscarawas County are not going to pay 100 percent for this project," he said. Visitors who might need to use the 911 system will pay when they stay at a hotel, shop at a store or eat at a restaurant.

"There should be some contribution from the folks outside," he said. "With the sales tax, we can do that."

Additional information on the sales tax proposal can be found at:

www.co.tuscarawas.oh.us/TCSO/911EmergencySystemFunding.pdf