CROWN POINT | Lake County's police and fire chiefs were told Thursday to compel their elected city and town officials to join E-911 consolidation or face the loss of nearly $4 million in state subsidies now keeping emergency communications up and running.
However, cities and towns may be forced to contribute more local tax dollars to the unified service than some can afford without approving a new local income tax.
The state is mandating communities consolidate into no fewer than two public safety call centers by Dec. 31, 2014.
A meeting of the panel of police and fire chiefs and two elected county officials appointed to guide the consolidation fell into bickering about who was responsible for enacting what would clearly be an unpopular tax.
Municipal and county officials accused each other of failing to have the courage to protect public safety and playing politics.
The meeting eventually ended with public safety officials from 18 cities and towns given 60 days to return with written comments from their elected officials about what to do next.
Lake County Attorney John Dull, who drafted an interlocal agreement that would give legal form and finance authority to the new body that would run the consolidated service, warned the group that at least four communities, which he didn't name, likely will balk at an E-911 consolidation as it is currently planned.
The stumbling blocks are the current $30 million price tag of building new police and fire dispatch centers in East Chicago and Hobart and funding all new communications equipment for all 18 public safety departments, he said.
"There are alternatives out there and they may be distasteful to you because they involve fewer call centers, but you have to consider them," Dull said.
In Porter County, its county council also is turning to its peers at the municipal level to seek help in covering an estimated $2 million annual shortfall for E-911 expected to hit by the middle of next year.
Council members are aware municipalities are facing their own funding shortfalls but believe they have little choice after efforts downstate to address the problem fell short.
"The answer is not going to come from the state of Indiana," said Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st.
The council said it is unlikely the state would allow the county to fund the salary and benefit portion of the E911 budget with proceeds from the county income tax.
Times reporter Robert Kasarda contributed to this report.