Lake County Council weighs 911 funding question for Nov. ballot
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent June 7, 2012 2:18PM
Stephanie Dowell/Post-Tribune Lake County Councilman Larry Blanchard at council meeting to vote on 1% income tax November 26, 2007 in Crown Point.
Updated: July 9, 2012 6:14AM
CROWN POINT — Lake County officials are poised to schedule a public hearing that could put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to approve a $13 million bond issue for combined 911 dispatch services.
That doesn’t mean that the county has committed to raising the money via referendum, but officials are moving forward with the steps needed to take that road if that’s the way they decide to go.
The other options, according to Larry Blanchard, a member of the county’s 911 Finance Committee, are to reduce the budget for the consolidation or to institute a county option income tax.
The public hearing, proposed for 4:30 p.m. on June 26 at the Lake County Government Center, will be considered by the Lake County Council at its next meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Under a recently passed state mandate, all counties — and the municipalities contained within them — are required to consolidate their dispatching services into no more than two buildings by Dec. 31, 2014, or risk losing state 911 communications funding. In Lake County, that means combining 17 municipalities with the county’s own dispatchers.
The Lake County Emergency Communication Commission (911 Commission), which reports to the Lake County Board of Commissioners, has recommended two sites: the second floor of the former Blaw-Knox Co. administration building in the 4400 block of Railroad Avenue in East Chicago, and the Hobart Police Department building at 705 E. 4th St.
In a letter from John Dull, attorney for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, to the Lake County Council dated Wednesday, Dull states that “the only way for the 911 committee to proceed with two sites is to have a bond issue of $13 million. Given the constitutional tax freeze, the only way to raise this amount of money would be to submit it to the voters.”
“This (referendum) is just a recommendation from the finance committee to the council — an option,” Blanchard said during a Thursday study session of the council. “This is something that might come to pass and might not come to pass. It’s a pretty aggressive recipe that we have to follow and a tight schedule.”
Councilman Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said the time has come for county officials to make decisions about whether to go forward with the recommended sites, or to choose a less costly option, such as operating one full-time dispatch center and keeping a second unmanned “dark” center in reserve if the first is knocked out.
“I think the point now is the elected officials are going to be brought in,” Niemeyer said. “We have to decide how we’re going to fund it.”
The nuclear funding option would be to create a county option income tax; however, county officials have roundly rejected the idea.
Citing that resistance, the 911 Commission voted last month to ask that the council create a new countywide taxing body to cover the capital costs of creating two centers. Niemeyer and other members of the council did not cotton to the idea.
“They are kind of dictating what they want in terms of the plan,” Niemeyer said.