ST. JOHN | The county's municipal police and fire chiefs were surprised Thursday to learn Lake officials are pushing cities and towns to make a $5.8 million commitment to get a consolidated E-911 emergency communications center up and running months sooner than first anticipated.
The chiefs, who are members of the the E-911 advisory commission, also learned for the first time the Lake County Council is preparing to pass a one-quarter of 1 percent income tax.
The council will demand the cities and towns forgo about $2.3 million of their share of the income tax revenue to finance the merger of their 17 community-based radio dispatch operations into one countywide E-911 system.
The cities and towns would have to permanently surrender an additional $3.5 million in property tax revenues they now spend on their own radio communications. It too would be earmarked to help pay for the equipment and staff of a consolidated E-911.
Telephone user fees would provide an additional $2.6 million that would bring the total annual budget of a countywide E-911 up to $8.5 million.
These financial estimates are part of a newly drafted interlocal agreement to establish the consolidated system that none of the chiefs had seen nor heard of until Thursday's meeting.
Sheriff John Buncich, who received a copy of newly drafted agreement, shared it with the chiefs and warned that input of law enforcement leaders was being overridden, although it was unclear Thursday who authored of the new interlocal agreement.
Hobart Fire Chief Brian Taylor, who is chairman of the chiefs' advisory board, expressed shock that months of hard work by police and fire chiefs were being pushed aside. "This brings up the issue of old Lake County politics at work," Taylor said.
Interim Cedar Lake Police Chief Gerald A. Smith complained Thursday, "Consolidation was brought to us as a cost savings, but this will cost communities more for what we already have, or even less service,"
Smith said he is concerned there won't be enough money left in Cedar Lake to handle the nonemergency radio communications.
It was only the latest jarring note for the public safety leaders.
Last month, E-911 Director Jeffery Cicillian, the consultant the chiefs had been relying on to help direct the process, resigned after the Board of Commissioners declared their lack of faith in his leadership.
"There is total confusion on this matter. Things are changing by the minute," Buncich told the chiefs.
He advised them to immediately get their elected city and town officials involved in the planning process and be present at future meetings of the Lake County Council and the Lake County Board of Commissioners where some of the disconcerting changes have bubbled up.
State law mandates Lake County consolidate E-911 by the end of next year.
However, the newly drafted interlocal agreement demands the consolidated system be up and running by next March — nine months sooner.