CROWN POINT | Before Lake County can merge the emergency networks of its 17 municipalities, everyone has to agree on a vendor.
Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, Sheriff John Buncich and municipal public safety chiefs clashed over the convoluted business of merging 17 community-based E-911 radio systems into a single countywide network at Wednesday's public safety committee meeting.
The state is mandating the consolidation take place by the end of next year, or local departments face losing millions of dollars in state grants for public safety.
The city and town police and fire chiefs want Motorola Solutions, of Schaumburg, which already does work for 15 local cities and towns and has been designated by the state government's Quality Purchase Agreement program as a qualified provider for E-911 services.
Allen said Motorola should be required to compete for county business along with any other qualified vendor in an open bidding process.
"This is a huge expenditure. We just passed the income tax, and we are getting pressure from the public," Allen said. "The taxpayers will hold us to a higher standard in terms of our spending. We have to be certain Motorola will give us the best price and amenities."
Munster Police Chief Steve Scheckel responded officials spent the better part of a year setting up a bidding process, but the commissioners' former consultants so mismanaged the process they had to cancel it. He said to restart would delay selecting a vendor until the fall, and the county could risk missing the state consolidation deadline.
"You have to understand our frustration," he said.
Hobart Fire Chief Brian Taylor, St. John Police Chief Fred Frego and Scheckel suggested commissioners hire a technical consultant who can examine Motorola's proposal to protect the county's interests.
Allen said he was waiting on the chiefs to recommend a consultant. Frego said they met recently with Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and agreed that any of three consultants who have offered their services would work.
"Then a fourth walked in and wanted $50,000 a month, we thought that was ridiculous. I don't know what happened to that process," Frego said.
Sheriff Buncich said public records list nine consultants who have applied to work with the county, but none of the consultants Frego spoke about were on that list.
Allen got the chiefs to agree to let commissioners hire a consultant by next month. Nine chiefs agreed with his proposal, while seven disagreed. Some chiefs said they have little idea who the current list of potential consultants are.
The chiefs, three commissioners and seven County Council members are set to hold a summit meeting May 23 to better coordinate their efforts.
The chiefs were interviewing five potential candidates for county E-911 director. They hope to make recommendations to the commissioners by the end of this month. Commissioners intend to hire a director by July.
Work on preparing a space inside the Lake County Government Complex for a central police and firefighter communications center is set to begin next month and be ready for equipment late this summer.