Lake County approves $20 million E-911 borrowing

2014-03-11T12:38:00Z 2014-03-12T08:46:10Z Lake County approves $20 million E-911 borrowingBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
March 11, 2014 12:38 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council narrowly voted to borrow $20 million to launch a consolidated E-911 service despite concerns about the cost.

The County Council signed an interlocal agreement setting out the ground rules for how the combined police and fire communications network will be governed and financed after a 5-2 vote.

Members then approved the loan by a 4-3 vote after giving public assurances the start-up costs and yearly operational expenses will be borne by the county without levying additional property taxes.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, was joined by members David Hamm, D-Hammond, Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, and Jerome Prince, D-Gary, in supporting the bond. Council members Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, dissented.

Cid, who thinks Lake County is bearing too much of the burden of the service, said it was wrong to let cities and towns keep their new income tax revenues without requiring them to contribute more to the $20 million capital expenses and estimated $10.1 million annually to operate it.

Strong said he opposes spending $1 million to equip an inactive secondary central dispatching center at 4444 Railroad Ave., East Chicago, that will be activated only if the primary center in Crown Point is taken down by some disaster.

Strong, who represents most of Crown Point and rural south county, said, "Politics has nothing to do with this, only common sense."

Strong called East Chicago a "bad site" because it's near the BP Whiting Refinery "which could be a target of terrorists, and it is near railroad tracks where a hazmat spill could eliminate it."

Cid and Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, whose separate districts overlap East Chicago, said the Indianapolis engineering firm of RQAW identified East Chicago as the best site for any E-911 operation.

Commissioners later decided it would be cheaper to move the primary E-911 dispatch center to the Lake County Government Complex and use East Chicago as the backup site. Cid and Allen characterized the downgrading of East Chicago as politically motivated.

Strong, who disavowed any politics in voting against the bond because of the East Chicago site, voted for the interlocal agreement, saying although he thinks consolidation won't be an improvement over the current 911 service, it is a state mandate he is obligated to follow.

Despite their opposition, Cid, Dernulc and Strong allowed the majority to pass the bond on two consecutive readings Tuesday.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners will take up the issue later this month.

State law requires the current 17 city, town and county police and fire dispatch centers to merge by the end of this year.

All but Cedar Lake, Highland, St. John and Schererville have signed on to the new service.

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