ST. JOHN | Town officials say they and at least four other Lake suburban communities are ready to go their own way if county officials don't cut the public cost of E-911 consolidation by several million dollars.
The move threatens to drive a wedge down the middle of Lake County's long efforts to consolidate 17 city, town and county police and fire communications centers into a single countywide network, as required by state law.
St. John Town Manager Steven Kil told The Times on Friday that Cedar Lake, Lowell and Schererville agree with St. John they can form their own consolidated police and fire dispatch radio communications network. He expects Dyer to sign on in the coming days.
Kil said those five could form the core around which as many as 10 south suburban public safety departments can gather, leaving East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart, Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago and Whiting to form their own Public Safety Answering Point or PSAP.
That plan is at odds with five years of efforts by Lake County officials to merge everyone into a single public safety communications network by the end of next year. If consolidation fails, Lake County risks losing $2.6 million the state provides Lake to pay for operating the 911 emergency telephone service in the county.
Kil and St. John Town Councilman Mike Forbes said they aren't trying to derail E-911 consolidation, just prevent suburban taxpayers from being gouged.
They made public Friday the county's proposed budget for the new E-911 service. It would cost more than $36 million to build and equip the primary 911 call center in Crown Point, a back-up or "dark" center in East Chicago, buy radios for each of the hundreds of Lake County police officers and firefighters and the computers necessary to coordinate hundreds of thousands of service calls annually.
It would cost $11 million to pay the salaries, utility costs and other daily operational expenses.
"Those numbers raised a red flag for us," Kil said. "It only cost $7 million a year to run our current systems. The whole point of consolidation is savings, not to pay $4 million more than the county is paying now.
Kil said county officials also would force St. John and other suburban communities to pay more than their fair share of those costs, since their communities generate significantly fewer public calls for police and fire help than the larger cities.
Kil said his proposed PSAP of select suburban communities would be cheaper and more efficient, which is why it is gaining popularity among frugally minded municipal officials. "We don't have an unlimited budget. We have a balanced budget," he said.