St. John proposes two 911 dispatch centers for Lake County
BY CARRIE NAPOLEON Post-Tribune correspondent September 16, 2013 1:08PM
St. John town manager Steve Kil says his proposal for a separate E-911 dispatch center for southern Lake County is based on the volume of calls each of the two centers is likely to handle. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: September 16, 2013 9:44PM
St. John — A proposal by St. John officials to split the county and create two new but separate consolidated E-911 dispatch centers threatens to derail an already tenuous effort to comply with the state’s mandate.
Steve Kil, St. John town manager, presented the plan to create two distinct “public safety answering points” to the executive board of the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission last week.
Kil said the town began putting the plan together after numbers circulated regarding how much would be transferred from the property tax levy of each town to pay for the consolidation.
The cost of the consolidation is disproportionate to the call volume in 10 of the 18 existing public safety answering points, sometimes called PSAPs, he said.
“This proposal is based on call volume. . . . This one PSAP is not necessarily the best idea,” Kil said, adding the two PSAP proposal groups communities that are similar and have like in-kind services and are located contiguous to one another.
Under the proposal, PSAP 1 would include East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago and Whiting. PSAP 2 would include Cedar Lake, Crown Point, Dyer, Griffith, Highland, Lake County, Lowell, Munster, Schererville and St. John.
PSAP 1 would handle about 71 percent of the total calls, on an operating budget of $5.1 million and serve 272,044 residents, or 55 percent of the population. PSAP 2 would handle the remaining 29 percent of total calls. It would have an operating budget of $2.1 million and serve 224,574 residents, or 45 percent of the population, according to figures compiled by Kil and distributed to E-911 commission members.
The proposal calls for each site to serve as a back-up to the other. He said his plan would reduce costs for all communities and would not require then to forfeit their levy, a percentage of their public safety local income tax. Current equipment would be used until The Hoosier Safety System is upgraded. PSAP 2 would be built in St. John.
However, bringing to plan to reality would require changes to several state statutes.
Nicole Bennett, attorney for the E-911 commission, said current state law specifically prohibits funding a PSAP based on call volume and requires the transfer of the portion of the property tax levy currently expended for 911 services. Those figures are to be certified by each community’s clerk-treasurer based on a formula approved by the Department of Local Government Finance.
“It may not be equal but the bottom line is, that is what taxpayers have been paying,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the law states the transfer will be automatic beginning Jan. 1, 2015. She said if Lake County communities do not come together and sign the agreement to create the consolidated service, the county will lose $2.6 million in E-911 funds currently receive, which now pay for every community’s 911 service lines through AT&T.
Each community may also risk losing its levy anyway. Bennett said the state has indicated there will be severe consequences if the consolidation does not occur, though they would not specifically indicate what those consequences would be.
“Although the approaches you put forth may be more popular, they are clearly in violation of state law,” Bennett said.
Brian Hitchcock, the county’s new E-911 director, called Kil’s plan flawed. He said in his experience, the numbers presented by Kil fall “far short” of the actual costs of running a PSAP. He also said there are unrealized costs in of using equipment that may not be compatible and ultimately will have to be updated.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich urged the E-911 commission to move forward with efforts to present the interlocal agreement creating one center for the whole county, even as Kil and other interested communities continue to develop their alternative proposal. The commission should also continue preparing a request for proposals to obtain the equipment single center would need.
Buncich said it is imperative the state see Lake County is moving forward.
“How many delays can we go through? Buncich asked.
“These delays are going to end up costing us a lot more in the long run.”