County officials try again to telemarket E-911 to skeptical communities

2014-02-25T22:15:00Z 2014-02-25T22:20:29Z County officials try again to telemarket E-911 to skeptical communitiesBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
February 25, 2014 10:15 pm  • 

ST. JOHN | Cedar Lake, Highland, St. John and Schererville town officials threw their worst fears and doubts at Lake County officials trying to meld their police and fire dispatch centers into a single county service.

"Maybe some of us don't share your confidence," Cedar Lake Town Council President Randall Niemeyer said. "Past history has taught us to be skeptical of county government."

The town officials expressed concerns about the switchover at the end of this year, if the county can't meet the deadline. They asked if their towns' veteran dispatchers would be replaced by a scaled-back group of untested ones.

St. John Town Manager Steve Kil worried aloud, "Will you transfer our emergency calls to Cedar Lake?"

St. John Town Council President Mike Forbes questioned why county officials could fall back on borrowing that may cost property tax payers more or consider increasing court costs to fund the proposed network's operation.

"I was hoping you would use taxes already imposed, not new taxes. I don't get it," Forbes said.

The skepticism was met with county government officials' assurances that they will deliver quality public safety. They said using new property taxes to finance $21 million in capital expenses is possible but remote.

"I, too, have a concern for taxpayers," Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen said. But he added, "Consolidation is the law, and I swore an oath of office to uphold the law."

E-911 Director Brian Hitchcock said he will attempt to use as many experienced dispatchers as possible. He acknowledged big-city and small-town emergency calls have different "dynamics" and promised the consolidated center's staff would serve each in separate groups in the beginning to smooth the transition.

The four communities have yet to sign an interlocal agreement to join the E-911 network, a lukewarmness county officials fear could hold up its launch.

Nicole Bennett, an attorney working on the merger, said county officials will be reluctant to spend money on staffing the consolidated center without everyone committed.

The two-hour meeting Thursday ended with many town officials expressing more confidence than they had at the beginning of the evening. They said they expect votes to be taken as early as next month.

However, St. John's Forbes declined to say whether he is now convinced by the county's promises.

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