Lake County officials put E-911 consolidation calls on hold

2013-09-28T23:15:00Z 2013-09-29T23:04:07Z Lake County officials put E-911 consolidation calls on holdBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
September 28, 2013 11:15 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | A consolidated Lake County E-911 network promises state-of-the-art radio equipment allowing instantaneous communication among the county's different public safety agencies.

It's something elected officials have yet to achieve, however.

Meetings to reach consensus among county and municipal officials on how to finance merging the county's current 17 community-based public safety dispatch centers has been delayed again, Tom Dabertin, a county government consultant on the matter, said.

A public discussion last week among police and fire chiefs along with state legislators about possible changes in the law mandating consolidation by Dec. 31, 2014, has been postponed at least until Thursday because of an inability to mesh schedules.

And an all-important assembly of mayors, and county, city and town council members and county commissioners to sign interlocal agreements to make the merger possible has been delayed until further notice and may not take place at all.

"We had all the letters ready for an Oct. 29 meeting, but now there is talk among the committees that they may not want to have it, they may want individual meetings," Dabertin said.

Lake County officials have gone through five years and several expensive consultants with little to show for their E-911 merger efforts.

Many public safety officials wondered aloud why the county should scrap the current system, which may appear on paper to be organizationally inefficient, but nevertheless delivers police and fire services promptly to emergency callers. Some skeptics predicted the merger legislation would be overturned.

However, when state officials stuck to their guns, the county organized an advisory board of police and fire chiefs in 2011 who cooperated, and sometimes clashed, with county officials over the size and cost of a future communications network.

Public safety officials most recently have accused county leaders of adding to the delays by going through a weeks-long process of preparing to choose a radio equipment vendor through a competitive bidding process rather than choosing Motorola Solutions of Schaumburg, Ill., which state officials anointed as the most qualified and cheapest provider in Indiana years ago.

The latest curve ball has been thrown by St. John officials who are actively working to split the county into two service call centers, with St. John at the center of a lower-crime district that excludes East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart, Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago and Whiting.

St. John officials argue the cost of the countywide network model is too costly to its residents. They suggested other communities are minimizing their current 911 costs in the hope of reducing the tax revenues they will have to contribute to a future E-911 network.

That allegation triggered an examination of 911 expenses on a community-by-community basis. Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, said recently the verified numbers are almost all in now, and there has been little change in them.

Workers finally have begun moving walls on the third floor of the Lake County Government Center preparing for a telephone/radio call center.

Brian Hitchcock, the executive E-911 director hired only this summer, is drawing up an operational budget, expected to exceed $7 million annually and preparing a competitive bidding process to buy or lease as much as $40 million in radio infrastructure.

Once those numbers are fixed, they will be inserted into the interlocal agreements all 17 city, town and county public safety dispatch departments must sign. Many municipal officials have expressed doubt about the costs of merging, or suggested letting the 2014 deadline pass and see if the state will really punish Lake County by withholding several million dollars for not consolidating.

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