CROWN POINT | Lake County officials are preparing an unprecedented spending and construction blitz to build a countywide E-911 network in the next 10 months.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners are taking out a loan for as much as $21 million. They have Motorola aboard to provide the telephone and radio consoles and other infrastructure needed to build a dispatching center in the county government center.
Consultants are fast-tracking competitive bidding packages for radio towers, recording systems, back-up electrical generators and heavy batteries. The county is putting out help-wanted notices to hire about 100 full-time and 40 part-time dispatchers and managers.
This burst of energy and money is needed to comply with a state law requires Lake County to merge 17 current police and fire dispatch centers Jan. 1, 2015. Lake County is the only county yet to do so. But when 911 is dialed on Jan 1, 2015, what will happen on the other end of the telephone line?
That is the question Cedar Lake, Highland, St. John and Schererville asked E-911 Director Brian Hitchcock and other county officials last week for what they say may be the final meeting before their town councils vote on joining the consolidation.
Hitchcock responded he was optimistic.
"We are doing everything in our power to push ahead and compress the time left." But he cautioned, "It could be delayed. It's a possibility."
If that happens, he said the county is committed to paying police and fire dispatchers in place so current service isn't disrupted until the county is up and running. "We will only make cuts when we move to one (central dispatch) room."
County officials are anxious to reassure the four communities that have their doubts about the county pulling this off.
If those doubts lead any of the four communities to opt out, state officials could deny the county millions in grants for the 911 services and drag local officials into court where a judge would force them to follow the law.
The difficulties of a new E-911 service are daunting: maintain the current level of service with fewer dispatchers, many of whom may be unfamiliar with the communities they will be serving.
St. John Town Manager Steven Kil worried aloud.
"This is a huge sticking point," Kil said. "We don't want anybody to fail. It has to work, right away, and it is likely a lot of our dispatchers will not be county employees."
St. John Town Council President Mike Forbes chided officials for waiting so long to get moving when everyone has known about the consolidation mandate since 2008.
Thomas Dabertin, a county consultant assisting with the consolidation said there are a lot of "unknowns and a lot of things have to go right."
"But there is a tremendous amount of work ongoing. ... We are trying to pick through all the issues for potential roadblocks. Any equipment that would jeopardize our completion by Dec. 31 will be looked at, and we will fast-track the bidding of those items," Dabertin said.
He said the state 911 commission seems pleased with the progress in what is one of the most complicated consolidations in the state.
Town officials said after last week's meeting they were impressed with Hitchcock's command of the situation.
"This is what I wanted to hear," Forbes, of St. John, said.