Lake Council OKs 911 interlocal agreement
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent March 12, 2014 10:10AM
Updated: April 15, 2014 6:09AM
CROWN POINT — A divided Lake County Council has approved both the final interlocal agreement for the E-911 consolidation and the resolution authorizing the bond to pay for the anticipated $21 million project.
The interlocal agreement, which has been signed by 14 of the 18 public safety answering points in Lake County, passed by a 5-2 margin while the resolution to go out for up to $21 million in bonds to pay for it all moved through with a 4-3 margin.
Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Councilman Dan Dernulc, D-Highland, opposed both measures. Cid said she cannot support the consolidation and its budget as outlined because the annual operating budget exceeds the property tax transfer from the 14 participating communities and the amount the county was expecting to contribute from the public safety income tax revenues.
“Right now the public safety income tax is overcommitted,” Cid said.
Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, who voted to approve the interlocal agreement but deny the bond request, said his issue is not with the consolidation, but the $1 million in the budget to fund the build-out of an East Chicago “dark site.”
The consolidation of the county’s public safety answering points includes a main consolidated dispatch center under construction in the Lake County Government Center. That center must be operational by Jan. 1. A backup site must also be built. East Chicago was chosen as that location by the E-911 commission.
Strong said based on his 35 years he believes the East Chicago site is a bad location. He said East Chicago is too close to potential terrorist targets, such as the BP Whiting Refinery and railroad tracks that could be the source of a hazardous materials situation that would take the site out.
“Tactically it is a bad location. It is not a good site,” Strong said, adding he would like the commission to consider locating the equipment for the backup site in two semitrailers so the site could be mobile.
Dernulc said he could not support the measure because the burden to pay for it all will fall back on county property taxpayers anytime there is a shortfall in the E-911 budget.
County attorney Ray Szarmach said officials will have several options before them to make up any budget shortfall including but not limited to tapping the general fund. That, Dernulc said, is something he cannot support.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said county officials really have no choice.
“Inevitably, we bear the burden (of paying for E-911 services),” Bilski said, adding he is hopeful the state legislature will increase 911 user fees, a move that would help prevent any shortfalls. Officials have been stashing away some E-911 funding over the past several years in anticipation of the consolidation. Those revenues may be used to act as a buffer in the first couple years if shortfalls arise.
“Nobody on this board is looking to increase property taxes to pay for this,” Bilski said.
The council has no practical say in where the E-911 commission and county commissioners choose to put the backup site. The $1 million allocated from the bond issue for the East Chicago build out will be needed for a backup site regardless of where it is located.
“There’s going to be a need for that revenue,” Bilski said, adding there is a time frame for approving the bond to continue moving the project forward.
Commissioners Roosevelt Allen Jr., D-Gary, and Michael Repay, D-Hammond, were in the audience.
Repay said commissioners have taken every step possible to reign in the costs for the consolidation and continue to do so. He said a couple years ago the first cost projections came in at about $35 million. Today the maximum expected cost is $21 million, and the amount may be lower.
“We are making sure we don’t bond for a dime more than we need,” Repay said.