Pooling E-911 services likely to soak taxpayers

2013-04-06T23:00:00Z 2013-04-07T22:48:05Z Pooling E-911 services likely to soak taxpayersBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
April 06, 2013 11:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | A consolidated E-911 system won't be a toll free call for Lake County taxpayers.

Lake County residents may have to contribute millions of additional dollars to create a single countywide system next year that would replace the current 17 community-based police and fire radio communications systems.

That may sound like a prank call to anyone who remembers state officials promising it would streamline costs to the public. State officials mandated the change.

That was the reaction in March of municipal police and fire chiefs at an advisory E-911 commission meeting when Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and his attorney, John Bushemi, read from a document -- never meant to be made public -- laying out for the first time what it might cost city and town residents, workers and property owners.

They said cities and towns would have to surrender $3.5 million in property taxes that go to their own community-based police and fire dispatchers, as well as an additional $2.3 million of their share of a local income tax the Lake County Council is preparing to enact next month.

Those amounts, combined with $2.6 million in telephone user fees collected by the state, would round out a projected first-year budget of $8.4 million for a consolidated system.

John Dull, the attorney for county government who drafted that document, later said some of those numbers will have to be revised because of new information about the potential E-911 costs and revenues.

Declaring an entrance fee for cities and towns to join E-911 was a jarring contrast to previous county efforts to get everyone on board with a vaguely worded agreement that never spelled out the cost.

The change is the result of Lake County Council members demanding everyone understand county government cannot afford the full price of what they fear will be a high-ticket item.

"It's important for the towns and cities to know what is expected of them," said Ray Szarmach, an attorney for the council.

Consultants for county government said the savings touted by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and state legislators may be realized in the long term.

But the county must first have to eat the startup costs of creating a central facility where assistance calls are received and dispatched and new, interoperable radio equipment will enable all police officers, firefighters and medics to communicate with one another anywhere in the county.

Reducing the staff of 170 dispatchers who now field more than 700,000 public requests a year may prove harder than first thought. Many of them perform other services, especially in small departments where they double as receptionists or jailers and perform clerical duties.

County and municipal officials will spend this spring and summer talking to one another to quantify those costs.

"We will ask each community how much of their tax levy is dedicated to 911 and what percentage of dispatching their employees do on an average day," Larry Blanchard, a consultant to the Lake County Board of Commissioners said. "If they spend 60 percent of their time dispatching, then the county will take 60 percent of the their (E-911) levy."

However, the state will provide a three-year transition period that buffers cities' and towns' budgets from losing all their E-911 taxes immediately, although that could amount to a temporary period of double taxation for residents.

A recent memo by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance states county government can immediately collect 100 percent of what it needs from a town's E-911 levy once the town signs on to consolidation.

However, the town can tax is residents an additional 50 percent of that amount for the first two years of a consolidated E-911's launch, 30 percent the third year and 10 percent in future years.

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