County says E-911 holdouts are down to their last strike

2014-03-06T18:30:00Z 2014-03-07T06:54:03Z County says E-911 holdouts are down to their last strikeBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
March 06, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council has a message for any communities that still haven't joined the consolidated E-911 network: Time's up.

Council members debated Thursday whether to send that message now to Cedar Lake, Highland, St. John and Schererville or give the four hold-outs a few more weeks to merge or face the wrath of state officials.

They warned the Indiana attorney general will come down hard on Lake officials if they are not in compliance by the end of the year with the state law mandating the 17 independent city, town and county 911 emergency communications centers merge into one.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, is ready to lower the boom. "We cannot allow this project to be held hostage by a handful. Let's take it off the table and let them form their own (Public Safety Answering Point) PSAP."

Cooler heads counseled restraint. Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, said, "We don't need to threaten yet. By the end of the month two more may be signed on." Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said, "We need just a little more patience."

Bilski said he's tired of waiting.

Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Hobart, Lake Station, Lowell, Merrillville, Munster, New Chicago, Whiting and county officials on behalf of Schneider, Winfield and rural residents, have signed the interlocal agreement.

But the law requires full participation, and county officials are ready to send their evidence of compliance with the E-911 law to the attorney general in the coming days.

Bilski said the state can withhold more than $3 million in user fees paid by all Hoosier telephone owners, money the county now uses to support the current 911 emergency structure.

"This wasn't started by us, but we have an obligation and we are doing everything in our power to move it along. The work we have done is something phenomenal. We will know by our Tuesday meeting whether the others are on board or not; we will be reporting that to the state," he said.

County officials met last week with elected officials from the four communities who raised concerns about whether the county will raise property taxes to fund the E-911 operations and whether the county itself can have a functioning communications center up and running by year's end or whether their emergency calls in 2015 will be put on hold.

County officials gave assurances that higher taxes are only a remote possibility and the transition Jan. 1, 2015, from the current system to the new will be seamless. 

Cedar Lake Town Council President Randall Niemeyer said Thursday afternoon, "There is no need for threats. We are all working toward a resolution and we are not trying to be obstructionists. We just want accountability so we don't look back years later and feel like we should have done something else."

Niemeyer said they are trying to put their concerns in writing so county officials can sign off on that. He said there is no vote scheduled in Cedar Lake on E-911.

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