CROWN POINT | Lake County elected officials and public safety leaders may be on a collision course over the necessity to spend tens of millions of dollars on new radio communications equipment to consolidate E-911 networks.
Commissioners and County Council members appointed municipal public safety leaders to advise them on how to meet a state-mandated deadline next year to shut down Lake's existing 17 county and municipal police and fire emergency communications systems and replace them with a single countywide network.
Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, publicly warned municipal police and fire chiefs Wednesday they may be violating the county's policy of ensuring large-scale purchases be made through open, competitive bidding, because they have been negotiating only with Motorola Solutions, of Schaumburg, over its proprietary mobile voice and data equipment supplier.
The state government's Quality Purchase Agreement program has designated Motorola as a qualified vendor, which must give local governments discounts on radio equipment purchases.
Prince said the council would find that "disagreeable, of questionable legal merit and, ultimately, to be wholly inconsistent with the public trust."
Repay called for the county to speed up the process of hiring a communications specialist to provide neutral advice on the best equipment. He said if public safety leaders dealing with Motorola "come to us with that vendor and that vendor's price tag, the County Council is unlikely to accept it."
Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, assured Repay on Wednesday that no final decisions have been made, although the county may be required to spend as much as $20 million to start up a consolidated network.
Repay insisted a new consultant may be able to find a cheaper way to comply with the law without buying $20 million worth of electronics.
Scheub said the county is searching for such a consultant now.
Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, said he was told some time ago the county also would have to find $10 million to erect new radio communications towers.
"Why is state government requiring us to do this consolidation? Normally, when you do some new project, you expect an improvement, but there is no upscale to this," he said.
Scheub said he would like to see a joint meeting of commissioners, council and the E-911 advisory board in the near future.
"I want to clear the air and get everybody on the same page," Scheub said.