CROWN POINT | Consolidating Lake County’s E-911 networks into one countywide system isn’t an option; it’s state law. And it will cost all 17 municipal units most of their public safety funds whether officials agree with the mandate or not.
That was ultimately the blunt message delivered Thursday during a joint meeting of the 911 Commission, the Lake County Council and the Lake County commissioners at the government center. There was a sense of urgency because the deadline for consolidating that system is looming and there’s still a lot to be done.
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.
Billed as a chance to “clear the air on essential points,” the summit drew elected officials, lawyers and a number of police and fire chiefs from around the county.
Lake County’s existing 17 county and municipal police and fire communications systems will be shut down and replaced with a single countywide network by the end of 2014.
In the past six weeks, the Indiana Department of Local Government Financing finally ruled on how funding for that system will be obtained.
Chief among these is the 0.25 percent earmarked for public safety from the recently passed county income tax, said Lake County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart.
“The County Council will make sure the funding (for the new E-911 system) is there,” Bilski said. “I’m going to tap into that money. Be prepared. Everybody’s going to be ponying it up.”
In addition, the state will begin cutting funding for individual 911 systems in 2014. In four years, municipalities will only receive 10 percent of what they now get.
Smoothing the way
Two situations need to be resolved before further progress can be made to set up, fund and operate the required countywide E-911 system, said John Dull, attorney for the Lake County commissioners.
A new extensive interlocal agreement that will be approved by all 18 units of government must be hashed out in the near future, he said. That agreement needs to include information about how the system will be funded and how equipment will be procured from vendors, Dull said.
It will take getting all the lawyers who represent the municipalities to iron out any potential issues that would prevent their clients from signing the agreement, he said.
The County Council also must change a current ordinance to create an E-911 department authorized to buy the equipment needed to set up the countywide emergency system.
Recently, county Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, publicly warned municipal police and fire chiefs they may be violating the county’s policy of ensuring large-scale purchases be made only through open, competitive bidding. The E-911 Commission has been negotiating only with Motorola Solutions of Schaumburg.
However, Hobart Mayor Brian Snedcor, who heads the E-911 Commission, said Motorola is the vendor recommended by the Indiana quantity purchase agreement, called an OPA, and that other counties throughout the state have used Motorola.
The E-911 Commission’s technology committee, headed by Crown Point Sgt. Jack Allendorf and composed of veteran emergency personnel, has worked with Motorola engineers to find solutions to current communications problems with radio-dispatch systems.
A human resource committee has also interviewed candidates for two key positions in the E-911 department, a technical consultant and a director.
During the two-hour meeting, the officials agreed to move forward with the following:
Consider an ordinance to set up an E-911 department at the Lake County Council’s June 11 meeting.
Present a candidate for technical consultant to the council at its June 11 meeting.
Present a candidate for director of E-911 to the Lake County commissioners at their June 5 meeting.
Create a new detailed draft of the interlocal agreement and get all the municipal attorneys to agree to present it to their towns and cities.
Set up a meeting with mayors, town managers and city and town councils to review the situation and need for an interlocal agreement.