CROWN POINT |It's open bidding season on some of the oldest and most lucrative service contracts in Lake County government.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners is shopping for new vendors to perform more than $38 million in services ranging from insurance for county government employees to medical and psychiatric care for county jail inmates.

While commissioners routinely seek competitive bids on engineering and construction road, bridge and floodwater-control projects, state law permits them to award other types of service contracts without shopping around, and they frequently rehire scores of vendors and consultants with little debate.

However, the recent passage of the county income tax emboldened some county officials, including Councilmen Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, to insist all county contracts be put up for bid to avoid wasting public dollars.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said commissioners joined the super-saver movement last month by insisting the county use competitive bidding to find the best price to lease or buy an estimated $40 million in E-911 hardware and infrastructure.

Repay said commissioners also have been quietly moving toward competitive bidding to find an administrator for the county's $26 million group insurance program in the hope of slowing the cost of health care claims.

"My goal is to get them out there. I've been participating with the County Council to make sure we are doing our part as commissioners to get value and make sure we aren't paying people more than we need," Repay said.

That process continues Wednesday with a call for businesses to come forward and document they are qualified to do heating, air conditioning and ventilation of county government buildings.

That is a job Johnson Controls has been performing for decades under a contract paying the Milwaukee, Wis., firm more than $1.5 million annually.

They also are requesting qualified data processing firms to compete for the work of processing the millions of documents county government generates.

Cenifax Network Solutions, the Schererville-based firm that has controlled almost every computer in Lake County government since 1992, is being paid as much as $2.6 million for their services this year.

Mark Pearman, executive director of Cenifax, said his firm is prepared to compete with anyone to retain the county's business.

The county also is advertising for competition to provide health care in the county jail, the job Correctional Health Indiana and a group of medical consultants have been doing the last two years for between $3 million and $5 million annually.

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