Lake County 911 consolidation conversation changing
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent August 3, 2012 3:04PM
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub
Updated: September 5, 2012 6:06AM
CROWN POINT — With the deadline for a funding referendum passed and at least one mayor saying his city will not sign a required interlocal agreement, the Lake County Emergency Communication Commission will have much to talk about when it meets again at the end of the month.
Based on Thursday’s meeting of the commission’s finance committee, the conversation likely will be less about how to pay for two consolidated 911 dispatch centers than how to pay for something — anything — that will comply with the state’s mandate.
Gerry Scheub, the county commissioner who also heads the 911 commission’s finance committee, said the meeting was one of the most productive yet, but that came with some new understanding of the situation.
“Everything up until now has been looking at $31 million,” Scheub said Friday, referring to the cost estimates for fully equipped, twin dispatch centers in East Chicago and Hobart. “We realize that is not going to happen. No way is that going to happen.
“Whether we like it or not, we’re going to do it.”
Under the state mandate, every county — and the municipalities contained within — is required to consolidate 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.
Failure to do so means the state will withhold about $2.6 million annually.
In addition, the law still would require Lake County phone users to pay out as much as an estimated $4.5 million in fees to pay for consolidated service in the 91 other counties that have complied, said Larry Blanchard, financial adviser to the Board of Commissioners.
Part of the law requires each of those municipalities to sign to an interlocal agreement with plans for funding the operations and capital expenses involved with consolidation.
When only six signed on, Lake County attorney John Dull drafted a new version, which the committee sent out in June to the cities and towns, seeking written feedback before voting to approve it.
Almost immediately, Crown Point’s Board of Public Works voted against the new draft. Crown Point Mayor David Uran has denounced the law, which he said would cost the city more while providing less in service.
“With Mayor Uran leading the charge, it just woke everybody up to the fact that this is another unfunded mandate,” Scheub said. “I haven’t talked to Dave at all, but I think he was defending what he thought was necessary. My choice was not to pass an option tax, and his choice was not to sign the agreement.”
Scheub said the county now has no recourse — specifically, a legal recourse — and must move toward compliance with the state.
“I don’t think we can sue the state on it,” he said. “I don’t think so. I don’t think we’d have a chance to win. If we don’t do this, they take a lot more of our money. We can’t win on this. All we can do is take the most professional road at the least cost.”
That may mean putting all the county’s dispatching eggs in a single basket.
“We’re going to leave the option of two (centers) open, but in reality that’s why we’re up to $31 million,” Scheub said. “We’re going to have to do a lot of serious talk about what we can and cannot afford.”
Until now, the cost estimates for the project have built in millions to purchase new universal radio equipment to replace the various radios systems employed by the dozens of police and fire departments in the county.
Scheub said decision makers may need to consider leasing other physical assets, rather than purchasing.
“We’re trying to get this down to a reasonable cost, whether we lease everything or buy everything,” he said. “We’re going to give everyone a lot of options to see which is the most feasible.”