No approval of E-911 interlocal plan by Lake County Council
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent February 12, 2013 3:44PM
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:31AM
Until at least budgetary costs are known county officials say they will not sign off on the interlocal agreement necessary for the E-911 consolidation to proceed.
The decision Tuesday to defer approval of the interlocal agreement that must be signed by the county and 16 cities and towns involved came despite pleas from the sheriff, E-911 commission chairman and the county’s own representatives on the panel, Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, that the delay could derail efforts to have the consolidation complete and operational by the Jan. 1, 2015, deadline.
Council members also deferred a separate interlocal agreement with the town of Lowell that would have brought the town’s E-911 service into the county fold as part of a pilot consolidation intended to help the panel better understand any challenges that may arise when bringing in the other 15 municipalities citing the same reason – no firm budget. The pilot consolidation was set to begin March 1.
“There is no more time for foot dragging,” Sheriff John Buncich said.
Buncich said despite officials’ concern the interlocal agreement would bind them to funding the project regardless of the cost that is not the case.
“This agreement does not require the County Council to fund or spend any particular amount of money for the consolidated 911 operation…,” Buncich said.
According to the document cost for operations and staffing “shall not exceed the total amount of money available” from local, county and state sources. As part of the state statute, 911 funds for each community incrementally will be transferred to the county once the consolidation is in place over a period of four years.
Council attorney Ray Szarmach said while the interlocal states the available funds will not be exceeded, it also states the employees at the center will be county employees. That, he said, is where the main problem lies.
“The hurdle is going to be health insurance. I don’t think it’s any secret (the county’s) health insurance is not solvent,” Szarmach said. Until a realistic estimate of employees is determined, the county cannot determine if the available funds will be enough to staff the center.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said the council is aware of the hard work the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission has put in on the project and the county is not trying to thwart it. He said officials want to move forward, but they must do so exercising caution when it comes to how the project will be financed.
The same holds true for the agreement with Lowell. As part of the agreement the town will pay the county $100,000 a year during the pilot program to cover the cost of the two dispatchers that will move from Lowell to the county’s 911 call center. Until the county’s financial advisor has a chance to look at those numbers, Bilski said, there is no way for officials to know if that will be enough to cover the costs.
“We need to get those numbers together,” Bilski said.
Bilski said if the county’s financial advisor is able to work with the sheriff to get those numbers together officials would consider calling a special meeting to get the interlocal agreement approved before the next E-911 commission meeting Feb. 28.
Until the county council and commissioners approve the interlocal it will not be distributed to the participating municipalities for approval.
“We are the lead agency. They are looking to us for guidance,” Scheub said.