Crown Point officials want to challenge the state's E-911 consolidation mandate on constitutional grounds. However, filing a lawsuit would be a waste of time and effort, because this isn't the unfunded mandate those Crown Point officials say it is.
The state is charging a 911 fee on phone bills and sending most of that money to the counties. The 911 fee should cover operational costs. Lake County should make sure the cost of service stays within that budget.
The capital cost of establishing this consolidated service — the call center and the new equipment — must not come out of the 911 fee. That's a separate issue.
It's also the source of the sticker shock Lake County is experiencing for E-911 consolidation. Lake County's public safety professionals, led by Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller, have been charged with building a better mousetrap. That means designing a safe, secure building to house the dispatchers and getting the right equipment for both that building and to put in police and firefighters' hands.
That committee built not just one mousetrap, however, but two. Building two dispatch centers adds to the cost.
Politicians don't need to design a new facility. Trust the public safety professionals. But tell them to create a cheaper way to provide this service without sacrificing quality. That means using just one call center, for example, and asking Porter County to serve as Lake County's backup in the unlikely event that a tornado or other disaster would render Lake County's center inoperable.
To fund the startup costs — for the new call center and the equipment — establish a way to charge that cost proportionately to the communities served by it. Base it on the volume of 911 calls during a baseline period, perhaps, or by population, or by other means. But don't just shift the service to the county and let the communities pocket the change while the county scrambles to find money for the startup costs.
The continued fight over the 911 consolidation, with communities like Crown Point continuing to drag their feet, proves once again that the balkanization of the region is a major problem here. Crown Point Mayor Dave Uran, a former police officer, has made it known he intends for Crown Point to keep its dispatch center — a prime example of a turf battle distorting this important public policy decision.
"We've already got the best equipment and the best personnel," Uran said Wednesday. "For us to diminish service and pay more is absolutely asinine."
Diminish? Hardly. Just think of a car chase across jurisdictions to see the value of a single dispatcher handling that single emergency.
The state law is clear. Consolidation is needed. It will foster communication between agencies when all is said and done.
What Lake County needs on this issue is less saying and more doing. Get this accomplished, on time and at a reasonable cost.
Filing a nonsense lawsuit trying to fight reality won't make it any less real.