By David Hazledine
MILFORD — The Van Buren Township Trustee office was full Tuesday, June 15, as members of Milford Volunteer Fire Department and Town Council were joined by other regional township advisors at a meeting of Van Buren Trustee Advisory Board to discuss how to keep up with coming changes to Kosciusko County emergency radio systems.
According to Virgil Sharp, Milford Fire Chief, he first heard of a countywide shift from VHF to 800 megahertz radios at a Jan. 1 meeting of Kosciusko County fire chiefs. “It’s been nonstop since then … get everybody switched over to 800 and use VHF as a backup.” One initial overview of the project states the new system “shall interoperate (bridge) at all sites between VHF and 700 MHz channels.”
The problem for Sharp and other small-town fire departments — and the townships, which often fund them — is the cost will be dramatic. In the case of Milford, a complete upgrade — including five vehicle units, handheld and pagers — will cost roughly $118,000. In fact, Milford has already purchased some handheld devices to communicate with Elkhart departments, which have upgraded.
Since then, Sharp has also been working hard to meet deadlines for possible grants at the federal and state levels. Additionally, Kosciusko County Fireman’s Association is asking departments and funding entities to estimate how much each is financially capable of contributing to the upgrade in an effort to create a county grant to be considered by K21 Foundation at a later date.
Township Advisor Shane Bucher, who also serves with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department, expressed his belief the changes, which include three new towers in the county, will “be a benefit for the township,” as there are dead spots currently where communication with dispatch is difficult.
Van Buren Trustee Becky Alles, who also serves on the K21 board, opined K21 will likely expect townships to at least be able to contribute, even if it is a small amount. “It’s important each entity has skin in the game … look at the budgets and do what you can.”
Alles expressed her concern the cost of switching will be much higher at a later date. “We have to plan for this to the best of our ability,” she said. “We don’t want to be behind the eight ball and have to pay a higher cost later.”
Van Buren Township’s fire fund has been maximized, however the funds are earmarked for a new pumper truck for Milford Fire, which is expected to be completed by the fall at a cost of roughly $440,000.
Milford Fire Department is paid for by multiple entities: Van Buren Township, Milford Town Council and Jefferson Township, with Van Buren usually bearing the brunt of the costs. Milford Clerk/Treasurer Tricia Gall explained the town has “multiple expenses coming up,” including the state mandated closure of ponds at the sewer plant.
Van Buren Trustee Advisor Robert Beer, citing recent scholarships to Wawasee High School grads, suggested sending out flyers to “let the community know what we need … they won’t be against helping the fire department.”
“We need the timeline,” Gall continued. “As grants move through we’ll know what we have to deal with. Then we can go to the community.”
The board voted to table the matter until Alles could obtain more information.
The next meeting of the Van Buren Twp. Advisory Board is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m., Aug. 3.