CROWN POINT | Lake County officials came out of a closed-door meeting Thursday with a consensus to move forward with creating a consolidated E-911 system.
The three-member executive Board of Commissioners and seven-member legislative County Council hailed their meeting as a positive step toward merging the 17 remaining community-based E-911 police and fire dispatch centers into a single countywide system next year.
The County Council refused earlier this month to sign an interlocal agreement creating a consolidated E-911 system because members had no idea how much money it would cost to operate. They also balked at adding large numbers of new employees to their already insolvent health insurance plan.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, and Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said the county will amend language in the current proposed interlocal agreement. The new language would require municipal officials to provide accurate budget estimates of their individual E-911 operations by this spring so the county can estimate a total countywide cost to the state this fall for their 2014 budget.
The interlocal agreement likely will be taken up at the council's meeting next month, and a vote to approve the agreement will take place then or await further study of the financial consequences of consolidation.
Bilski said the council also will take up a separate consolidation between the county Sheriff's Department and Lowell next month.
The question of whether E-911 staff members will come under the county government insurance program will have to await a study to determine the fiscal impact on the county's health insurance.
It is estimated county taxpayers collectively shell out $8 million each year to pay the salaries of 170 dispatchers in 17 town, city and county police departments and to fund the hardware officers need to handle more than 450,000 calls for assistance. Consolidation advocates argue a single system would be cheaper.
The meeting came at a moment of apparent crisis in the E-911 consolidation movement. Jeffery Cicillian, who has served for years at the county's E-911 director, resigned earlier Thursday during a meeting of county police and fire chiefs discussing the future of E-911.
Cicillian's departure comes after Commissioners Repay and Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, had been critical of a lack of the leadership of E-911 consolidation and had agreed to only extend Cicillian's contract as a county government contractor until the end of March.
Repay said Thursday he is confident the county will find a replacement and move forward.