Potential Illiana emergency responders get bleak financial news

2014-01-31T00:00:00Z 2014-01-31T12:12:59Z Potential Illiana emergency responders get bleak financial newsMelanie Csepiga Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
January 31, 2014 12:00 am  • 

LOWELL | Local government leaders are fired up over a game change in the Illiana roadway planning they say will be impossible to meet.

The funding local leaders had been told would be forthcoming to help pay for locals providing emergency services to the 12-mile stretch of the Illiana will not happen.

Blame it on the legislators, Jim East of the Indiana Department of Transportation said Thursday during a stakeholder's meeting of municipal and township officials.

"It's bad news. These are the limitations I've been given," he said.

Local taxpayer-funded budgets pay for emergency services already stretched to the limit, Pat Mussman, wife of West Creek Township Trustee Harold Mussman, said. "We can't afford it...We can't afford the personnel."

East said the state mandates locals handle emergency coverage and collect from insurance companies of those serviced.

Lowell Council vice president Craig Earley, D-1st, said the Tri-Creek EMS and local volunteer fire departments already have trouble collecting from those to which they respond on Interstate 65 and U.S. 41.

Richard Rampone, senior supervising engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff which is spearheading the current phase of the Illiana project, said state-mandated, but unfunded, local emergency coverage of Indiana highways is a problem across the state.

Randy Wietbrock, a member of the Cedar Creek Township Advisory Board, said, "The reality is that this is a private road, not a state road. There's a big difference between public and private. Whoever takes control of this road should upfront be paying for the EMS. They're getting money for it (in tolls.)"

Wietbrock suggested the emergency services payments be a part of the bidding process, so it would be permanently funded.

East said he's never heard of that being done, but that' no reason to not try.

East and Rampone told the group they would take any reasonable financial suggestions to the proper authorities.

Cedar Creek Township Trustee Alice Dahl said there's legislation being considered downstate now that would provide more funding to townships pressed to pay for fire and ambulance service. "Your opinion would help," she told Rampone and East.

Lowell Town Councilman Phillip Kuiper, D-4th, said it all comes down to local officials' obligation to their constituency that pays the taxes.

"The EMS is for our folks," he said. There may be cases when Illiana emergencies would have to wait.

There are some heretofore unmentioned benefits, East told the group. He said it is a possibility that the ponds found in conjunction with such projects could be combined to form a reservoir for a new municipal water source for Lowell.

While at one point a frustrated Harold Mussman threw up his hands and asked, "Why are we here?," Rampone asked everyone to remember the beginning of Illiana talks and the progress made since.

The number of road closures has been decreased and other changes continue, he said.

Illiana planners will meet with south Lake County emergency medical service representatives at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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