CROWN POINT — Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. is unlikely to find under his Christmas tree the eight body temperature scanner kiosks he wants to deploy at the entrances to the sheriff's department and the Lake County Jail as a precaution against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Lake County Commissioners did not have the opportunity to either approve or reject the proposal to spend $23,560 in taxpayer funds on the kiosks, since the Lake County Council did not forward the purchase to the commissioners for final approval.
"The council never sent it over to us," said Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond. "I know what they talked about at their meeting, more or less, but they never sent over any actual documentation to do that, and we double-checked with them."
The council last week took the extraordinary step of reclassifying the kiosk purchase as a council acquisition after the commissioners repeatedly rejected the sheriff's requests to purchase the body temperature scanners over the past two months.
The commissioners questioned the need for the kiosks with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, the lack of policies for their use, and how the purchase might impact a lawsuit recently filed by the council against the commissioners that seeks to wrest control of all county purchasing from the commissioners.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, and Councilman Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John, said they now believe county purchases under $50,000 do not require commissioner approval, so there's no need for the commissioners to consent to the kiosk acquisition.
However, both councilmen said the kiosks have not yet been purchased on behalf of the council and the sheriff.
Besides the body temperature kiosks, the commissioners have nixed approximately $200,000 in additional sheriff purchase requests, including a new boat for water rescues, an automotive lift, a police vehicle, a two-person all-terrain vehicle, a drone, six specialized crime scene flashlights, vehicle antennas and 30 office chairs.
Lake County Police Chief Vincent Balbo unsuccessfully pleaded with the commissioners Wednesday to approve the purchases as vital public safety resources.
The commissioners are next scheduled to meet Jan. 20.