The town of Lowell will merge its emergency communications system with the Lake County sheriff's in six weeks, but consolidation for other town and city police and fire departments remains on hold while debate continues over the cheapest and best designed electronic infrastructure.
Fire and police chiefs advising county officials on E-911 consolidation debated, but eventually delayed, a decision Thursday on whether to retain IYP, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm. It that has yet to draw up a communications hardware design after three and a half years and $500,000 in county payments.
The chiefs said their attempt to invite electronics vendors to sell the county such hardware had to be withdrawn in recent weeks because a document, called a Request for Proposal and authored by IYP, that was supposed to specify what equipment and services the county needed was too vague.
Lester Miller, of IYP, blamed county officials who have been in disagreement over what they wanted him to include in the RFP.
Munster Police Chief Stephen Schecke suggested the county give up crafting its own RFP and use a state-approved plan for communications hardware called a Quantitative Price Agreement.
"I feel the same frustration level as everyone else in the room. We started down this RFP path and lost our way. Waiting to put another RFP back together would take another nine months to a year. We should bypass that," Schecke said.
The chiefs agreed to put off a decision until the Lake County Board of Commissioners decides next month whether to retain IYP or hires a new consultant.
Lowell Police Chief John Shelhart, who attended the E-911 advisory commission, said town residents should notice no difference when county police take over its emergency 911 calls sometime around the beginning of March.
"The call will be taken as before and one of our police officers will respond," Shelhart said. The chief said the move should save town government $100,000 a year.
State law is mandating all police and fire in the county to merge their communications by the end of next year, or the county stands to lose millions of dollars in state subsidies.
The town of New Chicago's E-911 service merged with county police last year. But larger communities that now handle hundreds of thousands of emergency police and fire calls annually cannot join until the construction of a new call center.
The chiefs decided late last year to locate that call center inside the Lake County Government Complex in Crown Point, but the space still must be designed, equipped with state-of-the-art communications hardware and staffed.
Construction costs could exceed $4 million with annual operating expenses adding millions more. City and town officials must sign onto an interlocal agreement to provide a significant share of the operational costs.
The E-911 commission will ask municipal officials to approve the interlocal agreement early this spring.