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Report: St. John will drop two-point 911 plan

Updated: January 5, 2014 6:23AM

St. John Town Council President Michael Forbes said an announcement by E-911 leaders Tuesday that the town plans to back off its proposal to create a second suburban dispatch center in the county was premature.

Forbes said there “still needs to be some significant discussion” about the terms of the interlocal agreement that would create one consolidated public safety answering point in the county before the town’s plans are put aside.

Herbert Cruz, director of the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission, and Thomas Dabertin, commission consultant, on Tuesday morning announced the two entities had come to an agreement and St. John officials would no longer pursue a plan splitting the county into two dispatch areas after changes to the interlocal agreement dropped the requirement that all participants contribute a portion of their new public safety income tax revenues to pay for equipment and continued operations.

“We are nearing an agreement on it. We are coming to terms. We need to and will talk with the E-911 group. There are still some financial concerns and operational concerns,” Forbes said.

By Tuesday evening, Cruz confirmed St. John officials have lingering concerns. However, he received an email earlier in the day from Steve Kil, St. John town manager and creator of the alternate two-answering-point proposal, confirming the E-911 commission could release the information that the town would be moving toward the single answering point. A meeting between Kil, Cruz and the commission’s attorney, Nicole Bennett, is scheduled Wednesday to address what he described as minor lingering concerns. Kil could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In September, Kil and Forbes presented the alternative two-answering-point plan to the E-911 commission that they said would save some communities money and would not require them to turn over a portion of their new public safety income tax dollars.

Under the proposal, one group would include East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago and Whiting. The other group would include Cedar Lake, Crown Point, Dyer, Griffith, Highland, Lake County, Lowell, Munster, Schererville and St. John.

Introduction of the plan prompted substantial revisions to the interlocal agreement for the single consolidated answering point, including removing the provision committing public safety income tax dollars.

Support for this latest revision of the interlocal agreement has been growing among officials. Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. and East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said they planned to sign the interlocal agreement and would encourage their city councils to follow suit.

Crown Point on Monday became the first city to have both the mayor and city council sign the interlocal agreement. The city council unanimously approved the document after determining the single countywide consolidation would provide better services to the city for a little less than they currently pay for E-911 dispatch services.

Cruz said the proposal presented by St. John forced officials to look hard at the agreement and prompted the county to make deep concessions.

“I believe that the concerns and issues that caused St. John to propose a second PSAP (public safety answering point) have been addressed. Due to their concerns, we have a better interlocal agreement,” Cruz said.

Cruz said the county has agreed to shoulder the burden of cost overruns and additional expenses that will fall outside of the state-required transfer of the portion of each units property tax levy currently spent on E-911 dispatch services.

Crown Point officials agreed Monday the revised interlocal agreement was key to their participation.

“Steve Kil was able to put some numbers out there that made people come back to the table and sharpen their pens,” Uran said. “The latest version is finally something we can understand and support.”

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