Commissioners spar over 911 consolidation
By Kitty Conley firstname.lastname@example.org May 7, 2013 11:48AM
Updated: May 7, 2013 1:28PM
CROWN POINT — It may not have come to fisticuffs at the May 1 meeting, but the voices were raised and Lake County Commission Chairman Roosevelt Allen of Gary looked like he would have liked to be almost anywhere but sitting between Commissioners Gerry Scheub of Crown Point and Mike Repay of Hammond.
Sheriff John Buncich sat in the front row trying not to laugh. He wasn’t the one in the middle this time.
All this came about when the subject of the state mandated consolidation of the Lake County 911 systems was raised.
Scheub said he wanted a joint meeting of the commissioners and Lake County Council to discuss the cost of the project. This unfunded mandated could go up to $20 million and then cost $8 million per year to run, according to Scheub.
Allen commented that the $20 million does not include towers. “This is expensive for a system that was already working.”
Repay was not happy with the commission charged with running the consolidation. He warned that they may be violating the county’s own policy of requiring large purchases to be done through an open bidding process.
Repay is not happy with the fact that the 911 commission, which includes Scheub, has been working with Motorola Solutions out of Schaumburg. Motorola is the manufacturer of the equipment and they are the ones telling the 911 commission what kind of equipment they need to purchase.
Scheub answered back that no decision has been made.
Repay wants an independent communications engineer to consult with the county on what equipment needs to be purchased. He felt that this new consultant may be able to find a cheaper way than spending $20 million on equipment.
Scheub told him that they have been searching for that kind of consultant, and that he didn’t think that the county needs to purchase the equipment. In his opinion, they should lease it.
When asked why the council and commissioners can’t just attend the 911 commission meeting, their attorney John Dull chimed in. According to Dull, it should be a joint meeting with all the council and commissioners sitting up on the stage. Then the 911 commission can make their presentation to both the legislative and executive branch of the county government at the same time.
This has been a very controversial project from the start. The municipalities that provide their own 911 service like it just the way it is. One former police chief had said, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
Allan said, “Why is the state demanding us to do this? That is the elephant in the room. The county does not have the money.”
Not only is the state not kicking in any funding for this project, they have been collecting the 911 fee from telephones throughout the county.
Scheub said, “We send $4.3 million to the state and they send only $2.6 million back to us. The rest is distributed to other smaller counties.”
Repay said he understood that “we are a donor county.”
If they do not consolidate the 911 system the state may withhold the $2.6 million in state 911 funding per year. On the other hand, if the county does consolidate, it will have to spend over $8 million per year to fund the program.
Even if the state gave the county back the entire $4.3 million of telephone 911 tax money back, the county would still be spending $3.7 million more each year than it is now, to replace a system that is run by each of the 17 county, city and town police and fire radio communications systems.
The state’s mandate requires the consolidation be complete by Jan. 1, 2015.