Time runs out on Lake County 911 funding referendum
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent July 10, 2012 2:32PM
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:29AM
CROWN POINT — The clock apparently has run out on a plan to ask voters to approve a multimillion-dollar bond issue for the state-mandated consolidation of the county’s 911 dispatch centers.
On Tuesday, John Dull, attorney for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, addressed the county’s fiscal body and basically said, it’s too late and never mind.
“There’s no need to discuss the matter for setting the hearing because it will not work,” Dull said.
Last month, the County Council split 4-3 to table Dull’s request to schedule a public determination hearing to kick-start the referendum process.
Some County Council members did not feel they had been educated enough on the matter, and others have expressed dissatisfaction with a recommended plan to put the two consolidated dispatch centers in East Chicago and Hobart.
Dull then appeared before the county’s Emergency Communications Commission with a revised version of a proposed interlocal agreement that must be signed by the county and all municipalities that operate their own dispatch centers. He reworked the agreement to include funding plans for capital expenses and annual operations, and to get more participation. Of the 17 cities and towns that need to sign the agreement, only six passed the original version.
In it, he wrote that the first priority when considering bonding should be to secure voter approval. Doing so would allow the county to collect funds for the annual bond payments as part of a countywide property tax outside the state’s constitutional tax limits.
Before addressing the council on Tuesday, Dull provided two proposed timetables for the referendum, revised on Friday of last week. However, when he was invited to address the council he said one of the two does not meet the required Aug. 1 submission deadline, and the other might not hold up in court.
With no action to take, the council moved on.
Larry Blanchard, a financial assistant to the Board of Commissioners and member of the county’s 911 finance consolidation committee, said the funding question — namely how to pay for the capital costs of consolidation — now depends on the final outcome of the interlocal agreement.
“It will have to go to a straight up bond issue,” Blanchard said, noting there are scenarios through which the county and municipalities could avoid triggering the tax caps. He has suggested bonding separately for each dispatch center, as well as a separate bond issue for the radio equipment, to void hitting the magic $12 million mark.
Triggering the tax caps would mean that the county and the cities and towns would have cut their existing budgets to pay for the bond payments.
The 911 Committee set an Aug. 15 deadline for written responses to the new interlocal agreement from mayors and town council presidents, which will be discussed at its next meeting on Aug. 23.