DAS is exceedingly proud to be the home of Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS). The MARCS Program Office within the DAS manages the wireless digital communications system statewide that operates 24x7 to connect first responders through 300+ towers that support over 140,000 voice units from more than 3,000 public service agencies statewide. This service is critical to saving lives and maximizing effectiveness in both normal operations and emergency situations. In the last two years, we’ve identified opportunities for improvements in the MARCS program while affirming our strong commitment to ensuring an efficient and affordable solution for law enforcement and first responders.
We are elated that Governor DeWine’s proposals for additional funding for first responder communication programs were included in the FY24-FY25 operating budget. With this additional funding, local government MARCS subscriber fees will be cut in half. The rate for local users will fall from $10 to $5 per month per radio.
It is vital for our first responders to be able to communicate readily and rapidly across jurisdictions. Reducing monthly subscriber fees will ease the financial burden on local governments while allowing more agencies to join the system and supporting the work of Ohio’s first responders to protect citizens and save lives.
Last year, in anticipation of the upcoming biennial budget, we reviewed our historical revenue and expenditures and existing user base. Knowing Governor DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Husted’s primary goals were to lower the cost of critical, life-saving communication services, we requested that Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber’s Performance Audit Team conduct a review of MARCS. We wanted to better understand the current and future financial condition of MARCS. We requested that the AOS provide financial modeling of the MARCS operational budget and information regarding the funding for similar programs in other states.
In April, Auditor Faber’s team released the results of that performance audit. Financial modeling conducted indicated that the program can meet financial obligations into 2027, and that to ensure future stability of the MARCS program beyond that year, DAS should work to secure the program’s future financial stability now.
Succinctly, this recommendation was the catalyst for our requested review. During the performance audit, Governor DeWine proposed eliminating subscriber fees for state and local government users. We know and understand that the biennial budget and increased funding for MARCS subscriber fees will increase interest in joining the MARCS program. The MARCS program can reliably sustain additional users without impact to the infrastructure. Future capital budget requests will address any necessary additional infrastructure or system capacity.
Secondarily, the AOS team recommended that we develop a formal policy to address delinquent accounts. Historically, we communicated with subscribers with outstanding accounts via telephone or letters before certifying the accounts for collection to the Ohio Attorney General. The audit found some MARCS user accounts went unpaid beyond the allowable period, and that we should improve this process.
As we reconcile our financial records from last fiscal year, we will also be amending our current process in accordance with the recommendations to seek collection of delinquent accounts more directly. With the reduction in subscriber fees, we anticipate far less issues with outstanding delinquent accounts over the biennium.
We extend our deepest gratitude to all of you for your partnership and look forward to working with you in the coming months and years as we solidify the financial footing of the MARCS program and expand its footprint across our great state.
Kathleen C. Madden