Lake County officials hope to find savings in centralized emergency dispatch center
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune corresondent July 9, 2013 12:32PM
Stephanie Dowell/Post-Tribune Christina Valpatic works as a dispatcher/911 call-taker in the Porter County 911 Center in Valparaiso June 5, 2008. The county consolidated its 911 centers into the current facility inside the Porter County jail building.
Updated: July 9, 2013 12:42PM
CROWN POINT — Early figures show consolidating the county’s “public safety answering points” into one centralized E-911 dispatch center could save between $1 million and $2 million a year in operating costs.
Larry Blanchard, consultant to the Lake County Board of Commissioners, said all 17 of Lake County’s public safety answering points have turned in their financial information to the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission for a report being compiled by Cender & Co.
That report will be submitted for inclusion in the interlocal agreement all participants must sign. The agreement will outline the costs of the project and the expected contributions of each entity based on an average of the past three years of cost information provided.
“The total three-year average for operating all PSAPs, which includes the budget for the AT&T lease and other professional services comes to $10.9 million,” Blanchard said via email, adding, “The projected operational annual cost after consolidation is $8.9 million.”
The $8.9 million includes an estimated budget for E-911 operations at $7.6 million and the AT&T lease of $1.3 million. The AT&T lease is for the specific trunk lines for the E-911 system.
Those figures do not include the initial capital cost of getting the consolidated public safety answering point up and running.
Lake County Commission Chairman Roosevelt Allen Jr., D-Gary, who also sits on the E-911 panel as the commissioners’ representative, said officials will have a better grasp on the start-up and actual annual operating costs after the new E-911 director, Brian Hitchcock, starts his job July 22.
Hitchcock, who has successfully led the consolidation of three public-safety-answering-point systems in three states including the Quad Cities, will have a more realistic idea of how many dispatchers, call takers and other personnel are needed.
Blanchard said the current estimates used for the preliminary figures showing the savings included costs for the highest level of staffing discussed to date. It is expected those figures are high.
Allen said in the absence of a director who knows exactly what the needs will be, officials are putting numbers together to the best of their knowledge and experience.
“We are hoping there will be a savings. It looks like there will be. It’s a lot of guestimation right now,” Allen said.
While preliminary figures are available for the annual operating costs, a realistic estimate of the construction and equipment costs has yet to be determined. Allen said officials will be looking to Hitchcock to clarity a great deal of unknowns.
He said among other issues, officials have been told conflicting information about whether existing communications towers can be used or new ones will need to be constructed. The construction of communications towers will significantly add to the cost.
Allen said Hitchcock’s first task will be to develop an operational budget and projected costs for the construction so the information can be included in the interlocal agreement and disseminated to all parties so they understand their financial commitment.
He is hopeful Hitchcock’s lack of ties to the region will lend credibility to the effort.
“He comes in with the knowledge but he doesn’t have the political baggage. That’s very important in Lake County. … This fellow knows no one here. I think this is the only way we will be able to meet the deadline. If he can’t move us along, it won’t move along,” Allen said.