CROWN POINT | Lake officials fear a public safety crisis in three suburban towns if they don't soon join the new county E-911 system.
"I wouldn't want to live in those communities if they don't have coverage links with the rest of the county," County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said of Cedar Lake, St. John and Schererville.
Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, pleaded with those town officials to sign an interlocal agreement soon. "They will have a clear communication problem, and they could be putting their communities in jeopardy," he said.
The state mandated Lake County to merge its current 17 municipal and county police, fire and emergency medical service communications dispatch centers by year's end.
Lake officials want to consolidate into a single countywide network and have talked Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Munster, New Chicago, Merrillville and Whiting into joining.
Cedar Lake, St. John and Schererville leaders refuse, because county officials refuse to agree in writing the county will provide a similar quality service and won't raise their taxes in future.
Because state law permits Lake to have two police, fire and emergency medical service communication centers, called Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs, some in the three towns are exploring the idea of forming their own smaller network.
County officials say if they do, they won't be able to use a new public safety communications infrastructure ensuring more efficient, simultaneous communications.
"Even if they put all of their equipment in one room, they will not be on the same radio system with the other communities. It would have to be by cell phones," Nicole Bennett, an attorney working for the county E-911 system, said of the three holdouts.
Schererville Town Councilman Kevin Connelly said recently his council will meet next week to discuss the dispute but added there are still too many unanswered questions in his mind. "It's just a bad agreement, one we are not comfortable with passing for our residents," he said.
Council members said the county is building a new call center that would accommodate covering the three holdouts if they choose at the last minute to join.
Bennett said it is unclear whether state officials would permit the three communities to operate independently if doing so results in their residents being taxed by both their hometown and the county for the same service.