MARC CHASE: E-911 shouldn't mean high-pressure sales

2013-10-22T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: E-911 shouldn't mean high-pressure salesMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
October 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A major government plan five years in the making shouldn't feel like the kind of high-pressure sales pitch one would face on a used car lot.

But that's really what it feels like right now in Lake County's quest to adopt a consolidated emergency 911 dispatch system prompted by state mandate.

In principle, consolidation of the county's 17 police, fire and ambulance dispatches into one shared system is a sound idea with potential to enhance efficiency -- and therefore safety -- while saving taxpayer dollars.

But we have been told by the Lake County bean counters and bookkeepers the price tag actually will be higher in the long run -- even though the county's municipalities will be sharing a presumably smaller number of dispatchers than currently exist across the 17 individual centers.

With a looming deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, some local police chiefs and other sitting on the county's 911 commission are pressuring local government leaders to act now.

They want an interlocal agreement to participate in the plan signed yesterday, and they want the county commissioners to approve Motorola as the provider for tens of millions of dollars in communications equipment. A competitive bid could lower the final rate, but the Motorola proponents feel the state already has vetted Motorola as a preferred provider.

To date, the County Board of Commissioners have wisely pushed forward to seek competitive bids for the communications equipment, in spite of this high-pressure sales tactic.

Motorola is on the state's preferred list, but that doesn't mean the county couldn't get a better deal -- even from Motorola itself -- by forcing competition for the county's business. Most of us understand the laws of capitalism in which competition forces more competitive (lower) prices or better services for our buck.

Real evidence shows competitive bids work for this very purpose. Following years of simply renewing contracts with existing major vendors, the county recently opened up for bid its contracts for the administration of employees' insurance, information technology and building climate control.

The bidding process already prompted the county's existing insurance administrator to drop its future rate by at least $400,000 per year.

The commissioners feel they have time to run an open bid for the E-911 communications equipment and still meet the state's deadline. They owe it to their constituents -- and the spirit of good government -- to try.

I don't fault the town of St. John, and other Lake County municipalities, for questioning the existing estimated costs of the 911 consolidation or for demanding that proposed costs be cut.

That discomfort has led St. John and some other local officials to propose two consolidated dispatch centers -- literally to separate urban from suburban dispatches.

This concept would fly in the face of the good government the state seeks to install here and should be avoided. But so do high-pressure sales pushes and crusades against those who seek fiscal responsibility.

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

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