CROWN POINT | Lake County officials are struggling to put a dollar value on prompt police and fire responses to dangers that threaten residents daily.
County taxpayers shell out $8 million each year to pay the salaries of 170 dispatchers in 18 town, city and county police departments and to fund the hardware officers need to handle more than 450,000 calls for assistance.
Now county officials are struggling with whether to borrow $30 million to build a new consolidated, countywide communications infrastructure that may cost an additional $3 million a year to operate.
Gov. Mitch Daniels derided Lake County's system as the height of duplication, prompting the Indiana General Assembly to enact a law four years ago to consolidate the 18 emergency 911 facilities into one dispatch center by the end of 2012. Failing to heed that edict could mean the loss of millions in user fees the state collects from county telephone users and redistributes to local government.
Lake County officials grumbled about downstate interference, hired expensive consultants and dithered about confronting the cost until last week.
It was then that Lake County Attorney John Dull urged the County Council to schedule a public hearing to begin pursing a $30 million loan to design, construct and equip the consolidation scheme or risk losing $2.6 million a year in fees the state will collect from local telephone users and give to other counties.
The hearing would have started the process for placing the $30 million plan on the November general election ballot for voters' approval.
The County Council balked.
Councilman Mike Repay, D-Hammond, a member of that majority said, "In what math book does spending $30 million to get $2.6 million make sense? I'm OK to take a wait-and-see approach."
Charles Kouder, a Cedar Lake Police Commission member and former police chief, argues, "They are trying to fix something that isn't really broken."
"Departments have been able to talk to each other for 30 years. You monitor the other department. And if they have a pursuit coming your way, you can hear that, and you can speak to them if you switch to their frequency," Kouder said.
"If a regional dispatcher has more than one department to attend to, what priority will they give a Cedar Lake call?"
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller, who leads a panel of police and fire officials planning the consolidation, said, "We can't talk to each other. A couple of weeks ago we went to help Gary out and they had to give us some of their portable radios. And when they came to help us the following week, we gave them some of ours."