MARC CHASE: St. John 'extremists' force E-911 compromise

2013-12-05T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: St. John 'extremists' force E-911 compromiseMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
December 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Take care who you dub an extremist. Sometimes seemingly extreme political positions bring about the middle-of-the-road compromises most of us desire.

Never was this more true than in recent concessions made in Lake County's ever-evolving plans to consolidate 17 police and emergency dispatch centers into one central county hub.

Government leaders in St. John and a few other region municipalities were branded by some as extremists — even racists — in August when they proposed creating two county dispatch centers instead of one after seeing some outrageous price tags and funding strategies proposed by the proponents of a single dispatch center.

The county is five years into a state-mandated consolidation of its emergency dispatches, and it appeared the whole plan had skidded off the road with St. John's late summer secession push.

There's no doubt St. John leaders pushed the envelope in drafting a funding blueprint for separate emergency dispatch centers for the crime-laden urban north section of Lake County and the suburban, largely southern portion of the county. Some folks howled that St. John was motivated by intentions of segregating affluent from disadvantaged communities.

But St. John's supposed extreme approach has brokered a compromise to which Lake County municipalities now seem to be flocking in droves. St. John has abandoned its push for a two-dispatch plan, but it's not a defeat. It's actually a win for the whole county.

Earlier this year, St. John officials — and this columnist — criticized the expenses and proposed financing for the project. The county wanted $56 million over eight years in income tax revenues from cities and towns in addition to all of the property tax revenues that were going to the 17 individual dispatch centers.

St. John pushed for a second dispatch center, promising to lower the costs for suburban municipalities. St. John's desire to see a lowered price tag for the consolidated dispatch center was understandable. Consolidation, after all, is supposed to bring about efficiency and cost savings in government.

Proponents of the single-dispatch blinked first, offering a newly drafted interlocal agreement for the consolidation in which municipalities hold on to that $56 million in public safety income tax revenues. The compromise also drops operational expenses by more than $1 million per year.

So St. John scored a victory that ultimately benefits the rest of us.

Emergency dispatch consolidation remains a bit of a moving target, though. Not all communities have signed on, and the county and municipal leaders still owe it to taxpayers to negotiate competitive, cost-saving contracts with equipment vendors.

But St. John leaders can celebrate a success here. It seems we owe these "extremists" our thanks.

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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