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Jefferson County Commission OKs New Radios for Sheriff’s Deputies

STEUBENVILLE — Sheriff Fred Abdalla Jr. will get the 25 radios he needs to protect his deputies and the public, without Jefferson County commissioners tapping into their special American Rescue Plan account to do it.

The new radios will cost the county about $116,000, money commissioners decided to take out of their Medicaid account rather than ARPA.

Roughly $9 million of the county’s original $12 million ARPA allotment is still intact and while Commissioner Tony Morelli indicated he’d be willing to use some of it to pay for the radios, Commissioners Tom Graham and Dave Maple said they’d rather keep those funds for infrastructure.

“I think we use (ARPA) for water and sewer projects or engineering projects on county roads,” Graham said. “We’ve got over a million dollars in the Medicaid account, let’s spend $116,000 (of it).”

“I tend to agree right now with Graham,” Maple added. “I’m not comfortable with taking it out of ARPA. … When we talked about ARPA six months ago, we never said (use it for) radios … we said broadband, we said infrastructure, we said these other things. This to me is a normal, general county responsibility of spending.”

Abdalla had warned commissioners several months ago the radios currently in use were end-of-life, with an extremely short battery life and don’t have functional screens, so officers have no idea what radio channel they’re on.

They sometimes shut off and lose their signal in areas where agencies with updated radios have communications.

Commissioners also mulled whether it would be better to buy a few radios each year to avoid having to replace them en masse down the road.

Abdalla said he’d obviously like to get 25 radios now, “if you guys think it’s feasible.”

“I think the best way (forward), when I start doing my budget will be to start working replacements into the budget,” he added. “Moving forward, I need to budget and be … thinking about replacing radios, cruisers, all the technology stuff that changes so often. I want to make sure I’m purchasing radios that will last long into the future and have some decent shelf life.”

Auditor E.J. Conn told commissioners the radios are an allowable ARPA fund use, “(and) it’s warranted in his situation.” The Medicaid fund has more than enough money in it — $1,113,000 — and is less restrictive, but Morelli pointed out in recent years revenues have fallen about $1 million to $1.5 million short of their obligations so they’ve had to move money over to balance the budget. Medicaid money can be used to cover the carry over as long as they designate a specific purpose for its use, but ARPA money cannot.

“Both Medicaid and ARPA have a lifespan, they’re going to go away,” Maple said. “This, to me, is a normal county (expense), I guess that’s what I’m saying.”

Morelli said they shouldn’t be trying to look ahead 10 years from now to where a future commission will find money to replace the radios again.

“I don’t expect to be in this situation again because I’m going to be forward thinking in our needs each year, unless MARCs (the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System) comes through and says ‘We’re going to upgrade our system again and you’re going to be (out of luck),” Abdalla said.

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