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Safety upgrade planned for Jefferson County schools | News, Sports, Jobs | #schoolsaftey

STEUBENVILLE — If all goes as planned, Jefferson County schools will start the new academic year with a state-of-the-art security system in place to safeguard students and school buildings.

Jefferson County 9-1-1 Director Rob Herrington was given permission to move forward with the purchase of 1,500 new licenses for their camera system. It’s going to cost the county around $331,875, but Herrington said that’s a small price to pay to ensure the safety of students, staff and property.

“If a critical event happens, we would be able to watch the event to gather information as well as forward the video to first responders so that they would know what is happening,” Herrington told the Jefferson County commissioners during Thursday’s meeting. “In most school violence situations, the people who are watching the cameras in the school office end up leaving because of the emergency, therefore no one is seeing or reporting on what the cameras are (picking up.)”

The new program is built around the SaferWatch App, a communications network that will link cameras in participating schools to Jefferson County’s 9-1-1 hub so dispatchers can tap into the video feed in the event of an emergency and instantly notify administrators and first responders.

Herrington said the 1,500 licenses they’re purchasing include some wiggle room in case a school would decide to add more cameras than currently planned. Schools are responsible for their own cameras,

“These are one-time licenses and there is no annual cost,” he said, adding they don’t need to seek competitive bids “because we already own the system and we already have multiple licenses on the system.”

“This is a system we have in place already,” he said. “All we’re doing is adding licenses, one-time licenses.”

He said they’re just starting to set schools up on the system, “but we believe it will be 100 percent participation.”

“When it’s over with, I’m going to say it will be roughly a half-million dollar commitment from us,” he told commissioners. “But what we’re doing vs. what other people are doing in the state and country, it’s off the charts.”

He said they have the money in their 9-1-1 account to cover the licensing fees, but asked commissioners to consider earmarking unallocated American Rescue Plan funds toward the project.

“If there’s any opportunity for any of that money, whatever it might be, that would be a positive thing,” Herrington added.

“It’s a permanent service, so if there’s ARPA money available I’m for that,” Commissioner Dave Maple said, though he wanted assurances that the “one-time license” promise would be there in perpetuity.

“These are considered site licenses,” Herrington said. “If you have a camera at Big Red and they have to get a new camera, it’s the same license. But if they add a camera, it’s a new license — a new one-time site license.”

Commissioners moved to pay for the licenses out of Jefferson County’s 9-1-1 funds, though they also will ask their ARPA consultant if it would be an acceptable use.

“This is a proprietary system we already own, we already own licenses for this system,” Herrington stressed. “This is just adding licenses to allow us to view schools.”

Commissioner Tony Morelli said he’s all for improving school safety.

“It is the latest technology available, not only to identify where a suspect is down to what room (the suspect) is in and then notify first responders in seconds,” Morelli said. “We can’t think incidents can’t happen here. There’s nothing more important than keeping our children safe.”

Commissioner Eric Timmons agreed, saying you “read about school safety situations way too often.”

“I’m happy that Jefferson County will be the first county in Ohio to implement this technology,” he said. “I know a lot of kids in school systems around the county, including my own family, and that makes me feel that much safer for them while attending our schools.”

Commissioners peppered Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District Project Manager Aaron Dodds with questions after getting word Steubenville has asked the district to fold its three projects — the marina, a downtown streetscape and a Miracle Field — into its Heart of Appalachia Appalachian Community Grant proposal, with Maple pointing out at least one city councilman had expressed concern about whether JSWCD had the funds.

He asked Dodds if he’d accepted the city’s projects.

Prior to that decision the city’s projects had been submitted to the Jefferson County Port Authority for consideration.

The port authority was awarded a $198,000 Technical Assistance Grant months ago to assist in its planning, before JSWCD decided to branch out on its own. The port authority has the ability to redistribute those funds, but decided to let Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association take the lead on an “omnibus” application.

“As long as they fit in (with what we’re doing), we will accept them,” he said. “With the Steubenville ones, we made it clear in the beginning the Miracle Field is an outlier, so we either have to make it more regional or I’ll have to chop it out.”

He said it can be regionalized by working with other counties on additional fields “or trying to make Appalachian Ohio more friendly to those who have difficulty.”

Dodds told commissioners they have “the capacity” to take on more projects in their Heart of Appalachia project.

“We’re working with our procured planner and they’re starting to kick us projects from around the region,” he told commissioners when asked. “We have to be around $50 million (in projects), so we’re trying to bolster it up.”

He said they also have to demonstrate regional impact, but with projects already in 17 Appalachian counties they’ve got that covered.

Commissioners reiterated that they are less concerned with who puts together local projects than they are that local projects get some of the $350 million available through the governor’s Appalachian Community Grant program, and have said communities hoping for the once-in-a-lifetime funding should look at which of the two local proposals better fits their needs.

They said that’s advice they intend to follow with their own project — tearing down two dilapidated buildings opposite the Tower building and developing a green space in their place.

“We have to decide which is the best fit,” Timmons said. “I get messages from (groups) saying they’re switching … I don’t know if they think it’s a slap in the face to us. You’ve got to figure out which (application) fits you best.”

He also bemoaned the shift in focus to “omnibus” proposals, pointing out originally the grant program was portrayed as a chance for forgotten Appalachian communities to get funds for projects they otherwise couldn’t do.

“Now we’re hearing only going to give three or four grants out,” he said. “I don’t know what the motive was unless it became too cumbersome for the state to administer. To me, it goes against the original intention to help communities that haven’t had much for a long time.”

“That was one of our fears as omnibus was created, that some of those small projects will get lost,” Dodds said.

Dodds told commissioners they’re in an enviable position, since they already have the design work done for their green space.

“You guys can be a last-minute add for anyone,” he said, adding that regardless of which application incorporates the green space, “I’m definitely here to offer expertise in designing that. I just want to see stuff happening.”

Auditor E.J. Conn unveiled the 2024 proposed operating budget to commissioners: The total proposed operating budget is just over $138,242,000. That includes a proposed general fund operating budget of $19,661,104. General fund estimated revenues are $16,626,418.

“It’s about $100,000 higher than where we were at this same point last year,” Conn said. “But this is kind of an ‘early in the game wish list’ type of budget. Hopefully, we can pare that down because the gap between revenue and expenses is only growing.”

Commissioners also:

— Designated WesBanco as the county’s active fund depository;

— Were told by Jefferson County Water and Sewer District Supervisor Mike Eroshevich construction on Barbers Hollow UV disinfection upgrade is complete;

— Received word that $40,000 set aside for contingencies during the fire escape renovations wasn’t spent and will be returned;

— Authorized Maintenance Supervisor Patrick Boyles to proceed with repairs to the automatic handicap door;

— Signed off on the $1,185,439 contract with Shelly and Sands for the Jefferson County Road 23 and township roads Ohio Public Works Commission resurfacing project; and

— Will mark August as Overdose Awareness Month by displaying purple flags outside the Tower building, the courthouse and sheriff’s department.

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