Lake County officials are considering a property tax referendum this November to provide the essential funding for consolidated E-911 dispatch operations. It would be better to provide the necessary funding sooner, but if the referendum is what it takes, so be it.
Consolidating E-911 dispatch operations is a costly but necessary proposition. Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller, who is heading up the effort to implement the state-mandated consolidation, provided cost estimates for this project Friday.
Of the $25 million to $30 million overall cost, $15 million to $20 million would be for equipment alone, Miller estimated.
The county's police and fire chiefs have recommended two dispatch centers, in East Chicago ($3.9 million) and Hobart ($4 million), to provide a backup in case of a tornado or other disaster hitting one of the centers. Putting the operations into a single center in Crown Point, on land the county already owns, would cost about $5.5 million.
Operating costs will be more than $1 million a year, and the 911 surcharges on phone bills won't be enough.
But this is not the place to scrimp. As Miller notes, every public safety response begins with a call to 911. This has to be done right.
It has to be done on time, too. The state's deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, must not be missed, lest the county lose state support for E-911 operations.
Lake County's police and fire chiefs have put a lot of effort into their consolidation, plan, as well they should. Lives depend on it.
An essential in this process is to get all the county's law enforcement and fire departments on the same equipment so they can talk to each other more easily during emergencies. That was a strong recommendation of the national 9/11 Commission after seeing the frustration in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, when agencies responding to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers couldn't communicate with each other.
Consider too the benefit of being able to instantly transfer information from one department to the next instead of having dispatchers on different systems contact each other to relay information about a high-speed chase, as is the case now.
If the referendum is what it takes to accomplish the funding for this consolidation, so be it. But if the referendum fails, a new tax would be necessary to make sure the consolidation goes forward as planned. Failure is truly not an option.
What the police and fire chiefs have put forward are recommendations, not a mandate. But there is no room for political gamesmanship here.
The County Council and commissioners should take the politics out of the process and approve the plan put forward by the police and fire chiefs and their consultants, including two centers in East Chicago and Hobart. Public safety demands it.