CROWN POINT | Lake County's cities and towns will have to ante up more than $6.6 million annually to operate a consolidated E-911 service, county officials confirmed Wednesday.
The Merrillville accounting firm of Cender & Co. is estimating the amount of permanent annual contributions municipalities will have to make from budgets, according to the state law requiring them to replace their 17 community-based police and fire dispatch centers with a single countywide E-911 network set to begin next year.
County government will have to contribute an additional $2.4 million in telephone user fees to bring the estimated operational cost of a countywide emergency communications network to more than $9 million.
That money will be drawn from property taxes and telephone user fees the public already is paying.
These figures underline that merging the county's 17 current community-based emergency communications services into one countywide network isn't going to be the money saver state officials envisioned when they ordered the consolidation five years ago, a county consultant said.
"E-911 was probably mischaracterized by the state as a fiscal efficiency program. It is not," said Tom Dabertin, one of the county's E-911 consultants.
He said the merger will lead to a more reliable and efficient emergency service and may realize some small savings once it is up and running, "but we don't have final numbers on that," he said.
"No one took into consideration that in a county the size of Lake," he said.
Gary would be the largest contributor at more than $1.2 million annually, followed by Hammond at $1 million and East Chicago at $972,000. The Lake County Sheriff's Department would chip in $425,000 in property tax and more than $2 million in telephone user fees.
That merger will downsize the current staff of nearly 170 dispatchers, who handle more than 450,000 calls for assistance annually.
County and municipal officials still must decide whether to borrow or set aside future tax revenues to purchase or lease at least $12 million in communications consoles for police and fire dispatchers, mobile units to be worn by hundreds of police officers and firefighters, communication towers, computers and software to process the data stream.