Proposed Lake County E-911 keeps changing to please suburban critics

2013-10-27T23:20:00Z 2013-10-28T11:41:07Z Proposed Lake County E-911 keeps changing to please suburban criticsBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
October 27, 2013 11:20 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County officials sat down Friday afternoon and cut $1.2 million out of the proposed countywide E-911 budget next year.

It was the latest piece of a concession package to woo city and town leaders into signing on with a single emergency communications network for all Lake County police and firefighters.

Those cities and towns are being asked to contribute at least $7 million in property taxes to support the new service's annual payroll and other operational costs.

Cedar Lake, Lowell, St. John and Schererville officials have argued the $11.5 million E-911 operations budget proposed last month was $4 million higher than the current cost of responding to 911 emergency calls.

The four communities are threatening to break away from a single county network that will be too expensive for their small communities. They want to form their own network, which would split the county into north and south communications districts — a move that could bring multimillion-dollar state penalties.

County officials responded most of those additional millions support communications infrastructure costs not on the radar of municipal officials because only the county is paying it at present.

Nevertheless, county officials acknowledged the critics this week by agreeing to let cities and towns keep $56 million in income taxes the county previously wanted municipalities to contribute over the next decade to pay for the capital costs of building and equipping the E-911 network.

Cities and towns now will control how they spend that $56 million on public safety needs. County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said Friday he expects the full County Council to agree soon to fill that capital expense gap by borrowing.

County officials also agreed to remove another irritant by giving cities and towns the final say on the number and brand of portable communications radios needed to keep first responders in touch with the E-911 center.

Previously, county officials insisted police and fire officials had to wait through a lengthy competitive bidding process to find the cheapest radio vendor. Many municipal police and fire chiefs want to purchase equipment from Motorola Solutions, of Schaumburg.

Motorola already equips many local departments and has been endorsed as such by the state's Quality Purchasing Agreement department.

Under the compromise, the county still will seek competitive bids, and cities and towns are free to go with the county or cut their own deals, officials said Thursday.

Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio, who helped craft the deal, told a group of fellow city and town officials Friday morning, "This will provide you with home rule. Now you make the decision how you will equip your department. Now you have the money you didn't have before to buy those radios so everyone can talk to everyone."

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