When times are tight — and unavoidable but necessary expenses mount — does your family add more luxuries to the budget? Or do you cut frills to make ends meet?

I won't insult your intelligence by answering those questions outright. But shouldn't we all feel a bit insulted when our local governments give any type of consideration at all to those who seek luxury spending in a time of fiscal struggle?

The Lake County Council will consider such a proposal today as it votes on a request from the county's new emergency 911 dispatch director to hire a deputy director at a cost of $75,000 per year.

This is the same new 911 director, Brian Hitchcock, upon whom the county recently bestowed a $112,000 salary. Last month, Hitchcock convinced county commissioners to hire a consultant — at up to $125 per hour — to draft a bid proposal for the E-911 communications equipment.

Apparently creating the specs for emergency dispatch equipment is beyond the E-911 director, billed as an expert on 911 consolidation because of his vast experience doing this at other stops in his career.

Last Thursday, Hitchcock came back to the taxpayers' till once again, informing the council he will be asking them to approve $75,000 a year for his assistant.

County Councilman Dan Dernulc made a salient point when questioning Hitchcock Thursday about this newest luxury request.

"Why do you need a deputy director right now?" Dernulc asked. "We have a lot of department heads in the county that could probably use a deputy but can't afford one."

I hope Dernulc, a Highland Republican, continues asking that question today as he prepares to vote on the matter. With any luck, the rest of the County Council asks it too.

The Indiana Legislature has mandated that Lake County mirror the rest of the state and consolidate its 17 local emergency dispatch centers into a central E-911 center. Again, the county hired Hitchcock in part because of his expertise in making this happen.

I don't question that expertise. Hitchcock previously consolidated 911 dispatch centers into a central location in the Iowa Quad Cities, an area I called home for five years before moving to Northwest Indiana. By all accounts of my contacts there, Hitchcock did a commendable job in creating a more efficient system for ensuring public safety.

There might even come a time at which Hitchcock will need an assistant to take the reins of the county's 911 services when he is unable to be present.

But Lake County cities and towns haven't even individually voted to join the consolidated 911 system. There is no operable central dispatch yet in Crown Point, no emergency equipment purchased and no dispatchers yet to manage.

Having an assistant now to help get the system off the ground — a duty Hitchcock was specifically hired to perform — smacks of a luxury taxpayers should be loathe to accept right now.

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Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.


Editorial Page Editor/South Lake County Editor

Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.