When Deputy Brandon Roberts was shot while trying to apprehend two fleeing felons, the inability of the existing Butler County radio system to provide countywide coverage and coordination between the multiple jurisdictions in Butler County surfaced as never before. Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones brought the inadequacy of the existing county radio system to the Commissioners’ attention and asked them to support a single, new countywide system that would: (1) improve broadcast and reception coverage and reliability throughout the county; and (2) enable all county emergency responders to communicate with each other.

The Commissioners decided the Sheriff’s idea had merit so they hired a consultant to prepare a report and recommendation on what to construct and how it might operate. It became apparent during the course of this process that the infrastructure necessary for a countywide system to operate must be located throughout the county and any radios needed by political subdivisions to communicate over the new countywide radio system must be provided as a part of the new system’s acquisition because political subdivisions were not financially capable of simply dumping their existing radios systems and equipment and buying a replacement.  It was also an accepted premise that if all political subdivisions could not use the new system, it would be useless to build it.  Thus, the new countywide radio system would require a master site for controlling the system, radio tower sites, dispatch consoles, portable hand-held radios, mobile radios for vehicles, and funds to upgrade existing 800MHz radio systems already in use locally in Oxford and West Chester for use on the new system.

The Blue Ball tower in Middletown under construction, 1/22/2008. (click to enlarge)

Although the consultant’s report had estimated the cost of a new countywide radio system would be $25,000,000, that estimate only called for a ten radio channel system and nine radio towers.  When the consultant’s report was presented to the advisory board, it was determined the scope of radio coverage needed to serve two geographic areas – Butler County and extended service areas.  Butler County refers to the geographic area of the county.  Several public safety agencies that call Butler County home have jurisdictional responsibilities outside the borders of the county.  The radio system was built to provide service in these extended areas.  The College Corner Fire Department, for example, provides service in an area that falls within Butler and Preble counties in Ohio and Franklin and Union counties in Indiana.  The City of Middletown extends into Warren County, including the location of the new Atrium Medical Center.  A request for proposals was then released for bidding.

When the bids for the new system were opened and reviewed, it became apparent that the kind of countywide radio system the county envisioned would cost closer to $30,000,000 than $25,000,000. Subsequent contract amendments after the contract was awarded to Motorola pushed the system price over $34 million.

Legislation for Funding

The $25 million estimated price tag for the new system was to have come from the temporary county permissive sales tax of one half of one percent (0.5%) that began October 1, 2005 and was to continue through July 1, 2007.  The temporary sales tax was passed in order to pay the cost of the design, engineering, purchase and installation of a countywide system and related expenses (being the initial hardware and upgrades).

A crane lifts a section of the Oxford tower, 12/20/2007. (click to enlarge)

When it became apparent the Motorola contract price was going to exceed the estimated $25 million price tag and that there would be ongoing maintenance at a substantial cost after the system was completed, the Commissioners began to explore how to pay these costs.  One plan was to ask all 26 political subdivisions in Butler County to share in the maintenance cost of the system after it was constructed.  However, there was opposition to having the political subdivisions contribute towards system maintenance and that plan was abandoned.

Eventually, the Commissioners decided in Resolutions 07-01-0172 and 07-01-0173 on January 25, 2007 to raise the additional $10 million needed to complete the new system by repealing the original temporary one half of one percent sales tax adopted in 2005 and replacing it with a new one half of one per cent sales tax beginning on July 1, 2007 consisting of: (1) a temporary one quarter of one percent sales tax beginning July 1, 2007 and ending July 1, 2008; and (2) a permanent one quarter of one percent sales tax beginning July 1, 2007 to be used by the county’s general fund for various purposes, including maintaining the countywide radio system.

During the public hearings before county commissioners on the sales tax renewal in January 2007, a presentation was made by the county finance directory on the purposes for which the sales tax increase was being proposed.  Among the purposes mentioned for the permanent increase was contributing $1.5 million dollars annually beginning in 2010 to maintain the radio system.

The extended service plan for the system infrastructure as set forth in the contract between Butler County and Motorola consists of three maintenance plans: (1) a system hardware warranty, (2) network security monitoring, and (3) an upgrade assurance.  In the first year after the Motorola construction contract warranty expires, these three plans alone will collectively cost the county $1,228,879.  By year four, the same three plans alone will collectively cost the county $1,453,977.  These expenses the county agreed to pay as part of system infrastructure maintenance.  However, the expense of operating and maintaining the system’s tower sites and providing employees to monitor the system, troubleshoot and assist political subdivisions with radio problems are not included in these costs.

Meeting and Agreements

Meetings have occurred since the initial discussion of creating a countywide 800MHz public safety communications system.  Since they would be front line users of the system, the Chiefs of Police and Fire for all 26 political jurisdictions in Butler County have been invited to attend.  It was understood that these individuals would keep their respective political jurisdiction informed on what was transpiring.

Discussions included logistics and the progress of the installation of the infrastructure for the system. Maintenance was discussed and in the meetings it was determined Butler County would assume the initial warranty and extended service plan for non-subscriber equipment as spelled out in the county’s contract with Motorola.  Each political jurisdiction would assume responsibility for its subscriber equipment’s insurance, maintenance, repair and replacement. This was spelled out in the participation agreement between Butler County and each political jurisdiction.


Physical construction of the system infrastructure began in 2007 and was completed in the fourth quarter of 2008. The contract required that Motorola achieve in-building coverage for portable radios in 95% of the county and 94% in extended service areas.

System Staging

System staging was completed in September of 2007. System staging happens at Motorola’s headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois and is where they assemble every piece of the system that will be deployed throughout the county, program it, and run through operational testing.

Functional and coverage testing were completed in November and December of 2008, demonstrating the system’s outstanding performance. Our true coverage tested at 99.84% in the county and 99.65% in extended service areas.

Progress on transitioning users to the new system didn’t occur immediately due to delays in frequency licensure and the installation of dispatch center equipment. Sheriff’s Office users in court security and at three correctional facilities began using the new system in February of 2009.

The fiber network that will link the nine dispatch centers of Butler County was certified for use at the end of April 2009, allowing dispatch console installation to begin.  The dispatch center for the sheriff’s office, the first installation, began in May and was completed in June 2009.

It is our hope that all dispatch centers and agencies will be moved over to the new system by the end of 2009.

Resolution History

Resolution 05-05-981 creates a Butler County Public Safety Communications System Advisory Board and its composition has been supplemented by Resolutions 07-08-1388 and 07-08-1549. This board will establish policies or rules for the administration, operation and maintenance of the system.

Resolutions 05-06-1141 adopted June 16, 2005 and effective October 1, 2005 temporarily increase the county’s permissive sales tax to pay the cost of the design, engineering, purchase and installation of the the system.

Resolution 06-09-1696 adopted September 14, 2006 awards a contract to Motorola to provide a countywide 800MHz radio system. From among the options presented by Motorola’s proposal the county selects a system whose initial contract price exceeds $25 million.

Resolution 06-09-1733 adopted September 14, 2006 approves the signing of a contract with Motorola whose system contract price totals $31.6 million.

Resolution 07-01-0172 adopted January 25, 2007 and effective July 1, 2007 repeals the sales tax increase imposed in Resolution 05-06-1141.

Resolution 07-01-0173 adopted January 25, 2007 and effective July 1, 2007 renewed the sales tax increase by one half of one percent.

Resolution 07-06-0987 adopted May 31, 2007 adds an estimated $2.7 million to the countywide radio system price in order to: (1)  increase the capability of the system by adding five more radio channels; (2) modify the West Chester weather sirens to remove them from the West Chester 800MHz system; and (3) reconfigure the power supply requirements at the tower sites.

Resolution 07-11-2138 adopted November 19, 2007 approved a third change order adding an additional $75,000 to the Motorola contract in order to: (1) alter the heights of some towers to meet FAA regulations, and (2) change some tower locations to meet local zoning requirements thereby increasing the total contract price to $34,477,263.17.